Thinking Out Loud

May 23, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Places with “Saint” in their name; sourced at the Brilliant Maps Twitter feed.

Never one for dull sermon series titles, the Church by the Glades in Florida doesn’t disappoint.

Welcome back! It was a week of ups and downs. First of all, in case you missed it, we had a Thursday Link List last week — yes, the very next day — featuring eight stories/articles you won’t see here.

► Our top item: CNN explores the intersection of Christianity and dealing with chronic depression.

► The Royal Wedding Sermon: “It was so post-modern that everyone could take their own meaning from it. Atheist, agnostic, or Christian – it didn’t matter. You could take that sermon ‘all you need is love’ and quote it in support of your own views… We were told that marriage is ‘a solemn, public and life-long covenant between a man and a woman, declared and celebrated in the presence of God and before witnesses’. But Bishop Curry does not believe that. Not only does he believe in same-sex marriage, but he has led the American Episcopal Church to go against the rest of the Anglican Communion (including the archbishop of Canterbury) so that it is now in the process of removing references to procreation and husband and wife so that the marriage ceremony can be non gender-specific. This was a traditional ceremony conducted by a man who seeks to undermine the theology, liturgy and practice of that ceremony.” …

► …Or for more, a review of the sermon by the Queen’s former chaplain. “[B]ishop Curry is a great preacher. And it will change nothing; because it wasn’t Christianity. It was ‘Christianity-lite’…

► …Or for a response to that response, this article at Premier Christianity which reminds us that this was a sermon watched by two billion people. (And that was just the estimate of the live audience; many have watched it since.)  

► Did the Billy Graham preaching gene actually skip a generation? Some say that grandson Will Graham is carrying on in more of a direct line from the late evangelist. In an Australian Christian news site, he talks about his grandfather and the challenge of having to preach one of his sermons in a movie. “The good thing was that I didn’t have to act – I only had to do what I was naturally doing anyway,” says Graham, “But what was hard was I had to preach a sermon that’s not my own.” He continues, “[Universal Studios] came back to me earlier this year and they said, ‘we actually want to make the gospel a little bit stronger.’ They said ‘we’ve already shot the movie, so we’re going to do some audio, so you’re going to go in and say these words and we’re going to overlay it with some scenes that we’ve already shot because we want to make sure that people hear a clear message of the gospel.’ When have you ever had anyone in Hollywood say, ‘we want it stronger?’”  

► On The Paulcast, Kurt Willems responds to those accusing Andy Stanley of Marcionism.  

► Winging it: “The central problem with evangelicals, as is illustrated with our ‘winging it’ approach to spirituality, is that we are unaware of our roots (especially our most toxic and problematic roots). We don’t know much about what came before us. The many denominations and off-shoots of denominations in Protestant Christianity should give us pause… In fact, as I read about the history of the evangelical movement, I was struck by how often groups split off from each other under the auspice of calling themselves ‘Christians.’ They thought of themselves as somehow preserving a pure version of the faith and didn’t see how they had any kind of bias or distinctives that set themselves apart.”

► I have long contended that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) acts as a surrogate religion in the lives of the participants I have spoken with. So this article piqued my interest. “While AA presents itself to the public as a mere program of recovery from alcoholism, it’s actually best thought of as a particular moral community, offering a comprehensive conception of how one ought to live one’s life… AA surreptitiously presents itself as a program to help one with their drinking, when, in actual fact, it’s offering a moralistic program that holds implications for much more than simply what one chooses to consume.”

► Reports are now saying that twenty Evangelical pastors were among the dead in last week’s plane crash in Cuba. (Other reports, over-shadowed by the Santa Fe shooting and the Royal Wedding noted that the American embargo with Cuba makes the purchasing of parts or better aircraft impossible.)   

► Watchdog/Investigative blogger Warren Throckmorton has left Patheos. “Patheos leadership informed me yesterday that my blog no longer fit their ‘strategic objectives.’ Since I don’t know what those are, I can’t say how I didn’t fit them…What a strange turn of events. Patheos was at the center of the Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia stories and now they host Mark Driscoll and K.P. Yohannan. All of the those Patheos links about Mars Hill and GFA are now erased. The content is here and archived elsewhere but admittedly, it will be harder to find.”

► In case you haven’t picked up on this, Christianity in Nigeria is quite different than where you’re reading this on so many fronts. Several Christian groups are demanding the release of Leah Sharibu, now 15-years-old who was kidnapped by the “Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group along with 109 other school girls in Dapchi in February. A federal government negotiation secured the release of 104 other girls but Leah was not released because she refused to [renounce] Islam during their weeks in captivity, according to her school mates. Five other girls reportedly died during the captivity.” The warning is that if she “dies in captivity, her death could result in ‘religious war’.”

► Rethinking the Invocation: At Patheos, David Rupert argues it might be a good time to retire this tradition at graduations, and the like. “With great flourish, the invokers often sound like the Pharisee, calling attention to a god of love and hope and joy, but rarely the God of the Bible. They are supposed to cause us to think about Divinity, to order our human business around his will. But too often, they are showcases for mediocrity and in today’s culture, invitations for mockery of God.” 

► Fuller Theological Seminary will relocate in 2021. “The cost of living in Pasadena is an increasing challenge for many of Fuller’s faculty, staff, and students. As we build a new campus in Pomona, we will have an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent Fuller for the 21st century, unencumbered by a campus that was designed for a previous era in theological higher education and in a location so costly that it limits our ability to reach many potential students. In addition to this, selling the campus in Pasadena resets the financial foundation of the seminary by eliminating all debt, increasing Fuller’s endowment, and generating seed funding for a new campus that is both high-tech and designed to foster student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-faculty collaboration.”

► Condensing the Conversation: Giving each approach just two or three paragraphs, the author looks at the four types of responses to the question, “What happens to people who have never heard about Jesus?”   

Bitterness: Five things it is, five ways to kill it.

► Many voices are saying that the new children’s movie Show Dogs is actually grooming children for sexual abuse. [UPDATE: This link now takes you to a drastically updated version of this story at CBN News.]

► Beyoncé Buys a Church: The 7,500 square foot church “is said to be over 100 years old and was listed for $850,000… The church…has not been active as a place of worship for believers due to members of the congregation reaching age and passing away. This New Orleans site is destined to become a tourist spot for those who are fans of the superstar from all over the world.” And then the report contradicts that with, “No word about whether Beyoncé will actually turn the church into her own, or flip the property into something else.”

► ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and Matt Redman songs’ is a directive given in Ephesians 5; one author asks, “But why does this come after an exhortation not to be drunk? Perhaps I am making something of nothing, but it is not an intuitive sequence of discussion to my modern sensibility. As it turns out, however, it may be more intuitive to an ancient Greco-Roman sensibility.” A look at the music/drunkeness connection. (Part one of a two-part article.)  

► Polyglots and Pentecostals: Speaking in tongues as a political threat to Rome. A lot to consider here in four short paragraphs.

► Smoking is fairly taboo among Christians, but in the UK, Christians smoking cigars is a bit of an exception

► In praise of multi-generational churches: “In a world where kids spend 8 or more hours a day with children “their own age,” adults in the work force are surrounded by individuals who are largely their generational peers, and seniors often live in “senior only” housing, the Church is one of the few places where people of all generations have the opportunity to share space.
And in this, I am not raising my children in the church because they get to hang out with “their cohort” or go to age segregated Sunday School rooms. I am raising them in the church so they can be part of a multi-generational community in which they can be seen and known and loved, for who they are, as full and equal members of the Body of Christ.

► Adam Ford is no longer the force behind The Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical news site. His reasons are lengthy, but for one, he didn’t want to have to sell his soul to Facebook and Google to insure it’s continued success. Also his heart now lies with his news feed project, The Christian Daily Reporter.

► Film: The half hour documentary Godspeed invites you to follow the story of an American pastor whose desire to change the world grinds to a halt in a Scottish parish. An ode to simplicity, ordinariness and a slow paced life, with commentary by Eugene Peterson and NT Wright

► A year after Donald Trump’s appearance, former President Jimmy Carter spoke at the Liberty University graduation.

► Preston Sprinkle’s 13-year-old daughter wrote this. He described it: “One of the beautiful byproducts of encouraging your kids to not get on social media at a young age. They explore life with more creativity and depth. “

► FOBTs. Or if you prefer, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (as pictured at right). England is reducing the maximum bet from a high of £100 to £2 “because of the impact on vulnerable people.” 

► Need a hug? If you’re in Fullerton, California, you could always go to HUG Church.

► If you’re single, looking for a life partner, and ‘hold to the Doctrines of Grace,’ then Sovereign Grace Singles, which we reported on a year ago, is still going strong. Because sometimes, dating just a normal, committed Christian isn’t good enough.

Communion on the Go

After 300 episodes, The Phil Vischer Podcast is now the Holy Post Podcast. Click image to link (hopefully by mid-morning Wednesday!)


May 16, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Welcome to Wednesday Connect 010. Grab your coffee and sit back and we’ll see what happened since we met last week. First, what got clicked last week? We try to keep you posted by posting the list weekly at Twitter. Also, our opening graphics today originated with our friends at The Master’s Table and their weekly feature, Happy Monday.

► First Get Religion quotes Religion News Service: “The gold standard for church leaders – the Master of Divinity – is losing some of its luster to its humbler cousin, the two-year Master of Arts… The reasons for the decline in the Cadillac degree, required by most mainline denominations as well as the Catholic Church for anyone wanting to serve as pastor or associate pastor, are many and multifaceted. One is the growth of seminaries affiliated with evangelical and Pentecostal denominations. These religious groups don’t typically require the Master of Divinity for men and women who want to be ordained.”
…Then the piece goes on to add, “Actually, a lot of Pentecostal/charismatic groups don’t require any theological degree for a lot of their pastors. Case in point: Bill Johnson, pastor of the popular Bethel Church in Redding, Calif. doesn’t have such a degree…” Excellent excerpts from the original article and analysis by Julia Duin.

► Church leaders who wouldn’t be caught dead “proof texting” a passage of scripture seem to have no problem doing the same with Andy Stanley’s sermons. Relevant Magazine gave him a platform to defend against his accusers (though nothing beats listening to the whole Aftermath series, as we did.)

► Preachers: Beware the ‘data dump.’ “The pursuit of a deep messages that are deeply edifying, can unintentionally lead to the dreaded ‘data dump.’ By now, every expositor has been warned of the ‘data dump’ sermon, and most congregants have been on the receiving end of an exegetical unloading. It is a sermon brimming with details about the context of a passage… saturated with observations about the verses… and drowning in cross-references related to the text … It is essentially a verbal commentary. The preacher has simply filled his notes with a collection of information he has gleaned throughout the week with little effort to make any connections between the text and God’s people.  

► A consequence of the #MeToo Movement: Some of you know Anne Marie Miller, formerly Anne Jackson, who wrote Permission to Speak Freely and Mad Church Disease. “One of the stories I’ve shared through my years in writing and speaking was of my sexual abuse when I was sixteen. The man who abused me was a 25-year-old youth pastor. I learned on March 20, 2018, that this man was not appropriately reported to law enforcement by the organization who investigated him internally (in 2007) and found him to have abused me. This man was also given a chance to resign instead of being terminated. Within days of me learning he was not reported, I reported him to both CPS and law enforcement. I have been working with them over the last six weeks as they conduct this man’s criminal investigation… This amount of “re-hashing” what happened has caused the trauma to resurface in my life, hitting my mental health very hard. In the last few months, I have been extremely anxious, depressed, and at times, wishing I was not alive.” Anne is asking for help on GoFundMe to raise $28,000 in treatment and counseling costs.

► A big announcement happening on Episode #300 of The Phil Vischer Podcast! But why does it say “Farewell?” And what is the Holy Post? I guess you’ll have to listen to find out.

► “A podcast about the craft of sermon preparation.” This time around, John Mark Comer share his philosophy of preaching and ministry at Sermonsmith. (57 minutes; if you don’t have that to spare this week, check out his personal study process at about 32:00 to about 37:00.)

► Important reading: “Though my husband and I have enjoyed a faithful marriage of nearly 39 years, the sexual sins of our church leaders have been like a series of boulders being catapulted into our lives at regular intervals… I’ve wondered if my husband and I were sending off some kind of beacon that drew these troubles to us like moths as though we were lamps on a summer night. I don’t wonder anymore.” While unable to provide a quick-fix, the Michele Van Loon offers her thoughts on what to do in the aftermath of improprieties and transgressions.

► An America Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop will preach at the Royal Wedding on the weekend.

The Blue Parakeet, a classic by Scot McKnight gets a second edition: “There are whole new sections, and this much-revised edition is nearly 100 pages longer than the original. New sections on reading the Bible as narrative, new material on slavery in the Bible, on science and faith, on the gospel … and more!  …Ah, yes, and the long section on women in ministry has been a highlight.”

Roger Olson reviews a 2017 book by Roger Olson in which he would argue that the Bible contains more than just theology; it contains an entire worldview.

► Catholic mothers trying to keep the kids Catholic: “Many of the good Catholic mothers I have talked to are just as bewildered. They did everything in their power to raise children in their faith only to see them adopt other religions or reject God altogether. Some say they were defeated by a culture that increasingly values the material over the spiritual, or they point to the rigidity of doctrine, failures of individual priests, sexual abuse scandals, boring services and bad music. Many blame themselves, although they struggle to say where exactly they went wrong.” As I said on Twitter on Monday, this article has implications for Evangelicals as well. I especially appreciated the part about kids seeing the male parent engaged in faith. Great in-depth writing at American Magazine.

► With all the focus on Israel and Jerusalem this week — a reminder of the prophetic significance of both — is this a bad time to mention that you missed the rapture?

► It’s been six months since a gunman killed more than two dozen people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Now, construction is beginning on a new 250-seat facility

► I love the title: Preschool Pneumatology. “We aren’t doing kids any favours by dumbing down theology to a point of meaninglessness. And, just in case you are wondering if kids need to really understand the nature of the Triune God, I would say a resounding yes, and here is why: we believe God is love. Love is communal – it is something experienced between persons. God in his very being is love, and we know God is communal his mysterious and wonderful 3-in-1 way. To take away from that reality and attempt to ‘simplify it’ is to remove something so significant to the character of God.”

► Internal link: As the song grows in popularity, here’s our own look at the song Reckless Love, posted in December.

► A different type of church planting: “Founded in 1996, Crossroads has always built on its business background. Only a small fraction of staff members have seminary training, because the church seeks diverse staff to fill roles that go beyond preaching, music, youth, and children’s ministry. While in-house graphic design and branding are nothing new for megachurches, Crossroads has a team that functions like an ad agency—stocked with designers, copywriters, project managers, public relations managers, and social media strategists…
“…At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running…In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.”

► A comedian-turned-preacher offers pastors six things they can learn from the world of comedy.

► “The release of three Americans held prisoner in North Korea is being hailed as a sign of increased goodwill heading into next month’s U.S.-North Korea summit, but a leading group assisting persecuted Christians is imploring the Trump administration to make human rights and religious freedom an important part of the conversation as well.” World Net Daily asks, “What about Christians in North Korean labor camps?”

► Endorsed: Oprah’s website offered a Top 15 books list from the last 30 years of titles dealing with 15 life issues. #11 was from Moody Press, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

► In the UK, a voice from an unexpected source, “Transsexual people have spoken out against Government plans to make it easier to change sex. In a letter to The Guardian, seventeen transsexuals who have undergone full sex reassignment surgery said they were ‘deeply concerned’ about removing safeguards from the Gender Recognition Act.”

► …but liberal ideology is alive and well in this video for kids.

► A horror story out of Columbia. The Newsweek headline: “Nuns Tortured 60 Children by Burning Their Skin, Shoving Faces in Toilets.” The home was described as “a hell house by neighbors and local media.

► A mainstream publication reviews last month’s Lynchburg Revival organized by Shane Claiborne (and others) who noted just days before the rally when he was served with a notice of trespass from Liberty University, “I’ve been arrested plenty of times in direct actions and protests and such, I’ve been banned from places, but I’ve never been banned from a church.”

► After a brief shutdown, the Twitter account Unvirtuous Abbey is back in business.

► And then there was this text, an un-credited paraphrase of 1 Cor. 1:
“I follow John Piper.
I follow John MacArthur.
I follow R.C. Sproul.
But is Christ divided? Was Piper crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of R.C. Sproul? When we say these things are we not behaving merely in a human way?”
…It’s actually a report on potential divisions in the Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) movement from someone who attended Together for the Gospel (T4G). 

► Friendly Atheist aka Hemant Mehta wasn’t terribly impressed by this explanation of disease by Pat Robertson. “All of this is nonsense. Some diseases come back for the simple reason that our bodies remain susceptible to them. Even certain vaccines require booster shots, right?”

► Canada’s Glass Ceiling: For the first time, a woman will become an Archbishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. Melissa Skelton will hold the highest position representing the province of British Columbia and Yukon Territory. “Skelton was raised by civil rights advocates in the Southern United States before moving to Canada and has a background in business, working in brand management for Proctor and Gamble…”

► Stephen Worthey was a senior in a freshman English class. By his own admission, not a smart person. Tormented by questions, he asked God for wisdom (James 1:5) and shares his testimony on what will become a new YouTube channel, Standardized Apologetics.  (8 minutes)

► Did a home motion-sensitive security camera capture an image of an angel in Michigan or was it a moth?

► For last weekend’s Mother’s Day in a number of countries, “Say it With a Kiss” by Amy Grant. ♫

New worship artist Anna Petrillo’s song “Joyful” releases in June. ♫

► If you like music with lyrics that repeat and repeat and repeat — inducing a trance-like state as evidenced in the video — a song from the Dallas, Texas worship and prayer ministry Upper Room, “This is How I Fight My Battles” and “Surrounded.”


May 10, 2018

Christian Spokespeople Who Are Jerks: When They Die, New Ones Replace Them

One podcast calls them “crazy uncles.” To others they are an embarrassment of the highest order.

Exactly 7 years ago, I wrote,

Christians everywhere: Meet your new spokesmen. These are, as far as the media and many of your un-churched or non-Christ-following friends are concerned, the people who represent everything you believe and stand for. Meet Harold Camping, Terry Jones and Fred Phelps…

…Notice anything?

The point that day had more to do with men in gray suits. Others would quickly want to add Pat Robertson or Jack Van Impe. Non-Reformers aren’t too impressed with John Piper, either.

But as each of these exits the world stage, as we all will do, it seems disappointing when new ones step up to replace them. Some don’t really fit the suit — and these are invariably males — but the effect is the same. Others are so young, but are already on a clear trajectory for crazy uncle status, like the one we’ll examine today. Others are so called “watchdogs” like the self-righteous, Pharisaical Chris Rosbrough. Others, like Ed Stetzer enjoy a measure of acceptability within a large denomination such that people miss how totally obnoxious and self-absorbed they truly are. Then there’s the religious snobbery of Johnson, Phillips and Turk, which, I assure you, is not a pop-rock band from the ’70s. Or the snarky, sarcastic, caustic, infantile attitudes of the guys on the Happy Rant Podcast. And then there’s the bullying tactics of J.D. Hall which some felt led to the suicide of a pastor’s 15-year-old son.

And how on earth do we compile such a list without considering Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

(At least Joel Osteen smiles. It is disarming and goes down better than anger. None of the people listed so far would be considered affable.)

But today is about Seth. I’m not even going to dignify him with a last name.

It all started when Beth Moore decided to post a letter to the male Christian leaders who have marginalized her over the years because of her gender. I’m not a huge fan of Ms. Moore and don’t get me started on her relationship to that Baptist cash cow known as LifeWay.

She does not however, deserve the behavior — the word crap comes to mind — she’s had to put up with over the years; nor did she deserve this response from the aforementioned Seth:

“Be silent…  I detest you… you are awful… Be Gone.”

I am not going to include a link here, but trust me, the above doesn’t tell you the whole story. I’d print more, but why should everyone reading this have high blood pressure? His seething hatred for Beth Moore was so 180-degrees absolutely removed from anything resembling the character of Jesus that ought to indwell all of us, that I would at this stage suspect his status as a follower of Christ.

…and that’s when it dawned on me.

Fred Phelps may be gone but his spirit of condemnation and judgement lives on in the life of people like Seth.

When the jerks die, new ones simply step up to replace them. This a tragedy on so many levels. Worse, Seth doesn’t see it. He is, in his mind right after all. He has no apologies to make, no comments to backtrack on, no blog posts to delete.

NIV.1 Cor.13.2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

What an absolute mess the Christian church finds itself in when someone can appoint themselves a rogue judge and jury and there’s no mechanism in the body of Christ that can shut them down and shut them up.

The danger of course is how we respond to Seth, though everything in me would want to respond to him as he responded to Beth Moore; something like, ‘Be silent…  I detest you… you are awful… Be Gone.’

Instead however, I offer this: Seth, repent. Repent of who you are, who is controlling you, and what you are becoming.



May 9, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Pardon my Planet’s Vic Lee often dances around religious/spiritual themes as in this example and one below.

“I got baptized in the Jordan River and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” This connects with the video about the origins of baptism, linked below.


Perhaps we can get this new “variant on Special K” as a sponsor for Wednesday Connect. In the meantime, click the image to learn more about this trending breakfast cereal.

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #9. Or if you prefer, Wednesday Link List #409. I don’t really care what you call it, as long as you click things, and this week there are some pieces worth both clicking and sharing.

► Probably one of the most seen items online this week was Beth Moore’s revelation concerning what she has had to put up with from male Christian ministry leaders. (And a malicious response online from one of them that I won’t dignify by naming him.) She claims to have gone out of her way to avoid criticism. This one would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact she found it necessary: “I wore flats instead of heels when I knew I’d be serving alongside a man of shorter stature so I wouldn’t be taller than he.” No matter what you feel about Beth Moore, her version of it contains a glimpse into attitudes that were far, far less than Christian

► …Which led to this apology from a spokesperson for a large bloc of Christians.

► You saw the reports last week about rainbow-themed Mickey Mouse ears just in time for Pride Month at Disney. Now comes word of the cancellation of a Christian-themed event which goes back to 1983, Night of Joy.

► As everyone knows, women outnumber men in church, but “…the fault lies not with the men who skip church each week and instead go golfing or fishing or to a game or simply stay in bed. No, the fault lies with the churches that fail to give them the presentation of Christianity that best suits them.”

► Lutheran publisher Concordia is told it can get its advertising back on Google if they’ll just edit out the pesky religious stuff.

► Bible translation is the extreme sport of Christian academics, research and scholarship. But to pursue it, one needs to be trained in linguistics. But the best linguist can’t be without the theological education. “Asking a Bible translator to choose between linguistics or theological education is like asking him to choose between his toothpaste and toothbrush.” The writer also identifies two schools that achieve this balance

► Across the Pond: “On May 25 Ireland will decide whether to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, which recognizes the equal right to life of mother and unborn child… I was not surprised that U2 came out for Repeal. It was only a matter of time. The world’s loudest folk band has been heading in that direction for years, its early truth-telling gradually giving way to a jostling for liberal kudos… Fans were bereft. One tweeted: ‘This breaks my heart. I have loved and followed you for 20 years. I still love you but I can’t follow you down this road. My tickets to upcoming shows will go unused…’ It’s hard to say where they stand with Jesus these days. He’s still there in (some of) the lyrics, but sometimes you get to thinking that the U2 trajectory looks more and more like a belated discovery of the delights they eschewed in youth, a front-loading of the piety of age followed by an eruption into delayed adolescence.”

A pastor is found beheaded in India.

► His perspective was probably quite different than most others who attended the summit in Wheaton, because his is a global perspective. Brian Stiller of the World Evangelical Alliance offers Six Takeaways from the Future of Evangelicalism meeting last month.

► Theology Nerd: In a special Q&A podcast, Dr. Tripp Fuller looks at the option of reopening the canon of scripture versus reasons for keeping it closed.

► Church attendance: Up or Down? “We tend to believe, thanks to research like Pew’s, that church attendance has waned. (From 2007 to 2014, the percentage of Americans who reported attending services at least monthly dropped from 54 to 50.) The map [in the Washington Post article] shows many places where there was an increase. In fact, the number of counties where church attendance increased since 1952 as a function of population is distributed fairly evenly, with slightly more counties seeing increased density in church attendance than decreases.”

► I debated about this one last week, and didn’t include it. Today, I’m just tossing it out there and you can decide the relevance. The story in a sentence is that author Mallory Ortberg has transitioned and is now Daniel Mallory Ortberg. (Related to the now-Presbyterian, former-Willow pastor? Yes.)

► Rethinking a respected Standard: “The “Billy Graham Rule” is rooted in an idea that men and women are inherently, uncontrollably (hetero-)sexual beings, and it is designed to discourage any situations in which extramarital temptations could arise. But I think this whole narrative is a) unbiblical, b) anti-women, and c) factually incorrect. I also think it does men a huge disservice.”

► Must-Read Essay of the Week: The real reason Millennials aren’t at church. One writes, “I don’t need your life to look like mine. I don’t mind your messy, kid-filled busy life. I would actually love to be a part of it. I can come over and help you fold laundry. I can laugh with you about the crazy comment your kid said over dinner. I can tag along at the grocery store or in the car during school pick-up. As a part of Christ’s family, I want to share my life with you too. The good, the bad and the ugly. The successes at work. The fears of not measuring up. The failures I need to say out loud to know someone will still love me despite them. As a millennial, I want to be a part of your life and am hoping you want to be a part of mine as well.”

► From the academic, nonsectarian video channel Religion for Breakfast, a look at the Pre-Christian origins of the practice of baptism. (5 minutes)

► Supermom! Is it unrealistic for a woman to try to live up to The Proverbs 31 Woman?

► “There’s one clear way the world can help the Syrian people. The Trump administration is doing the opposite… The Trump administration cut the targeted number of yearly refugee admissions in half, from 95,000 in previous years to 45,000 in 2018. And at the current pace, refugee experts say, the final tally for this year is likely to be half that figure. As a case in point: in the first three and a half months of this year, the U.S. admitted only 44 refugees from Syria—about one-twentieth of the number accepted in the corresponding period in 2016… The ostensible reason for the U.S. clampdown on refugees is national security… Yet the actual security risk posed by refugees is negligible. “

► Things the kids need to know if their Missionary Kids (MKs) or Third Culture Kids (TCKs): A writer who knows what it’s like has summarized some of past articles into an all-time Top Ten mindsets these kids need to have.

► Job Description: What does a church “Communications Director” actually do, and what type of person are you looking for if you feel your church needs one? 

► From Pew Research: Black Americans are more likely than others to read their Bibles regularly and revere it as God’s Word. Also, “Another sign of the importance of the Bible to African Americans is their participation in prayer and scripture study groups.”

► The Complete Apologetic Answers: “A group of vocal atheist YouTubers posted a video on the Non Sequitur Show YouTube channel entitled ‘Questions no Christians Can Answer! An Atheist Creators’ Collaboration.’ In the video, fifteen atheists who are popular on YouTube and/or social media each presented what they considered to be their most compelling questions for Christians.” Read the responses “from various sects of Christianity representing Catholicism, Southern Baptists, Anglicans, Calvinists, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox and Messianic Jews with both liberal and conservative viewpoints.”

► Karl Vaters and Drew Dyck are among the speakers at a conference for small(er) churches happening in 11 days in the northeast. Check out the 2-minute intro video at

► No good news for American Pastor Andrew Brunson who is “is one of many Americans currently imprisoned in Turkey, including a NASA scientist and consulate workers.” He remains in prison until his next hearing mid-July.

► Modern Worship touring events: “Is it really worship if they charge you to get in?” “VIP seating at something that’s supposed to be worship?” “Brother Tomlin is not the only one to bait people in with the promise of worship, but it’s apparently a successful venture for him… you can reserve your own spot before Tomlin’s throne.”

► Podcast Preferences: Honestly, I wish I had the time. Podcasts involve a much greater commitment than simply reading a blog post, and don’t always offer the portability of reading a book. A year ago we told you about Seminary Dropout with Shane Blackshear, and if I had the time to follow one more, this would be top of list.

► A near-death experience, this one well documented. “From no brain waves to now walking and talking and reading, doing math. A miracle,” [his mother] said. Trenton [McKinley, 13] said he believes he was in heaven while he was unconscious. “I was in an open field walking straight,” he told WALA-TV. “There’s no other explanation but God. There’s no other way. Even doctors said it.”

► Add the greater Toronto church C4 to the list of churches producing original worship music. Their album, What is a Mountain? released on a Sunday…just in time for church. Listen to a one-minute sample. (Available on Apple and Spotify.)

Zack Hunt is now blogging at Patheos.

► Hitting the Road: Your annual index to major Christian Music Festivals in the United States and Canada. (And for my UK readers, this list.)

► The Slippery Slope Begins: Ken Ham can’t find enough potential Creation Museum and Ark Encounter employees who meet his doctrinal standards so he’s relaxing the rules a little. (If you click through to the Facebook announcement, jump to the 5:45 mark.) 

► From our Fashion Department: This year’s Met Gala 2018 was entitled, “Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and the Catholic Imagination;” the purpose of which is “to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.” Some say the fashions “went too far.” Preview and backstory; images (of which, if it weren’t for copyright, if I could have posted any here it would have been #22 and #24.)

► Finally, a new blog: Stephen Altrogge has launched including a look at Youth Group culture: “From what I can tell, lock-ins occur in two places: maximum security prisons and youth groups.” From his experience, such events are incredibly dangerous.


May 2, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Baylor University Homiletics Heavyweights: How many can you name? To see who these “A dozen pastors known for their consistently stellar performances in the pulpit” are, click the image. Your assessment of who’s in and who’s missing from this list may vary.

So I wrapped this up last night, and then this morning, as I was turning on my computer I realized I hadn’t written the introduction. There was just a placeholder that said ‘int.’ That’s a first. Again, welcome to Wednesday Connect and I hope you benefit from some articles and news items you might not see otherwise. Also, let me know if you want me to bring back the music videos; we weren’t getting a lot of clicks on those…

► Article of the Week: While speaking at a fairly conservative church, a suit-wearing Philip Yancey has an unexpected interruption from an unexpected guest

► Must Reading: Kristen Welch, author of Raising World Changers in a Changing World offers you, right here in this article, 100 Ways Your Family Can Change the World. Or, if you prefer, read a free chapter excerpt from her book. (22 pg .pdf)

► Clarification Needed: Rumors are widely circulating that a California bill would ban sales of Bibles

► My University is Bigger Than Your University: Apparently size matters, at least to Jerry Falwell, Jr. who when confronted with the news that Grand Canyon University (GCU) was bigger, said, “Our definition of a Christian university only includes universities who hire faculty who adhere to fundamental Christian doctrine. GCU does not. Liberty does.” (Expect this to go on for awhile.)

► Lastest Pew Research findings on belief: “About half (48%) of U.S. adults believe God determines what happens to them most or all of the time. Nearly eight-in-ten U.S. adults think God or a higher power has protected them, and two-thirds of Americans say they have been rewarded by the Almighty. At the same time, fewer see God as judgmental and punitive, with just four-in-ten saying they have been punished by the deity in which they believe.”

► On Benny Hinn: “Growing up in the Hinn family dynasty is a hybrid of the Royal Family and the Mafia.” Six weeks ago, nephew Costi Hinn sat down with HLN. (6½ min.)

► Meet Kristan Hawkins. I don’t know about her faith, but Kristan is the president of Students for Life of America, the largest pro-life youth organization in the nation. Since 2006, she has grown SFLA from a few dozen pro-life student groups to over 1,200 high school and college clubs throughout all 50 states…Kristan has been speaking on college campuses for her ‘Lies Feminists Tell’ tour, exposing how the abortion industry manipulates women into killing their children.”

► Listened to this Week: All 2 hours and 20 minutes of Greg Boyd taking questions from his parishioners on a variety of topics in 3 different services.

► Most under-reported story of last week: The firing of House of Representatives Chaplain, Father Patrick Conroy. Why the silence, even from Catholic media?

► After reading Brian Stiller’s book, From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, I gravitated toward this article, which also looks at what is called, the serial growth of Christianity.

► Is the conservative Evangelical response to the #MeToo crisis the correct one? This abuse survivor blogger says no.

► I have mixed feelings about sharing this, but for some of you who aren’t easily offended, it needs to be seen. In a few days a classic Christian blogger, Jamie Wright is releasing the book The Very Worst Missionary (Waterbrook Press) which is liberally peppered with expletives. It’s unfortunate in some ways, because over the years she was a powerful voice on such things as the foolishness involved in some short-term missions trips as seen from the perspective of full-time career missionaries. But rather than apologizing for the earthly language, she flaunts it in this post, telling people if they don’t like it, they can redact the words on the pages they occur, providing an index of each instance of crude language.

► The Psychology of Guilt: “In 21st Century America, guilt ain’t what it used to be — on the surface. It is often portrayed as a needless, even damaging, burden…Is guilt disappearing as religion is moved from the center of cultural influence in the West? Quite the opposite…Secularization makes matters worse because so many can no longer rely on Jewish and Christian forms of absolution that make guilt bearable.”

► All things to all men: “Today’s missionary theorists talk about ‘inculturation’ by which foreign workers learn about another culture, assimilate, and reshape methods to attract adherents. The same applies to outreach within a culture that is secularizing or post-Christian. But how to do this yet uphold the essentials of Christian belief

► I grew up in a church which did things like this. Still, it takes courage to invite someone of another faith to share in your sermon, as Bruxy Cavey did inviting a Zen Buddhist to speak last week.  

► For Roger Olson, the journey of Carlton Pearson — both as seen on NetFlix and in real life — is rather personal. But Come Sunday is also a film about Oral Roberts: “Oral did not permit any formal, written statement of faith at his university. Doctrine was whatever he said it was. And that fluctuated greatly. In the departments of theology we faculty took turns taking phone calls from people asking about Oral’s theology. I simply explained to callers that Oral was not a theologian and they should not expect him to be perfectly consistent or deep in his thinking or presentations of doctrines.”

► As someone who has stuck with a basic, free WordPress blog for more than ten years — not even changing the theme — this article really resonated.

► At the Movies: Alien Intrusion has been playing single night performances since February 28th and aims to show a connection between UFO sightings and evolution. It’s based on a bestselling book of the same name by Gary Bates. If anyone has seen this film, I’d love to learn more.

► One host site, not far from the main venue, is passing on the Global Leadership Summit this year in light of allegations against its founder Bill Hybels: “In light of the allegations now swirling around the former senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church AND the larger national movement drawing needed attention to the stories of women treated in harmful ways, this message comes to inform you that Christ Church will not serve as a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) this coming August…We’d like to see the largely constructive witness of Bill Hybels, the Willow Creek Church, and its Association continue. But, given the high identification between Bill and the GLS conference, this year we are taking a purposeful pause.”

► Disney. Again. This time it’s rainbow-themed Mickey Mouse ears; gearing up for its annual LGBT-Pride Month in June. (Updated link 6:25 PM)

► A wonderful side-benefit of becoming a Christian is that you now have 17 different ways to say ‘no.’

► Finally, The Jimmy Kimmel Show has a staffer who is assigned (hopefully among other things) to troll Pat Robertson. He finally got a made-up question read to Pat on the air.

April 25, 2018

Wednesday Connect

So here we are today with just eight months left to Christmas and I haven’t bought you a thing. It’s been a crazy week up here. Our little ministry is actually organized as a commercial business — why, I can’t remember — which means the Canadian income tax deadline hits us on April 30th like a ton of bricks. (We can’t afford to pay an actual accountant, nor can we use tax computer software. The process involves copious amounts of Wite-Out and liberal doses of almost-swearing.) So we were doing that, plus this, plus trying to sort out a number of other situations not worth mentioning here.

► The Assemblies of God denomination has elected its first female General Secretary. The presbytery “unanimously elected Donna L. Barrett to serve as the 11th general secretary of the U.S. Fellowship. With this election, the 21-member executive board fills the unexpired term of James T. Bradford, following his midterm resignation to pursue full-time pastoral ministry at Central Assembly in Springfield, Missouri.” She’s been a youth pastor and a church planter. General Superintendent Doug Clay stated that, ““While Donna was not selected on the basis of her gender, I know this moment will be meaningful for many women who feel God’s calling on their lives.” The AOG press release noted that “Barrett will serve as the first woman on the Assemblies of God Executive Leadership Team.”

► Monday’s mile of mayhem in Toronto took place not far from where my oldest son lives. We’ve seen this happen in U.S. cities, but now it strikes closer to home.

► Why are Christian academic institutions churning out graduates with PhDs in theology when the job market is terrible? This author calls it morally irresponsible. “Tell the students that they should have a solid Plan B and then tell them to make it their Plan A. Teaching overseas is a possibility. Pastoring, unfortunately, seems to be the default option, but they should get out of their heads the naive, idealistic fantasy of the scholar-pastor, delivering publishable sermons to an eager congregation. Don’t kid yourself: apart from rare cases, by pastoring you’re leaving scholarship behind, and woe to the frustrated PhD who tries to turn his/her church into an ersatz classroom.”

► One week ago today (4/18) a 50-year old Roman Catholic priest was stabbed to death in Mexico. But this is even more disturbing: “He is the 22nd priest killed in Mexico during the current administration, which began in 2012, according to the Catholic Multimedia Center. It said Mexico leads Latin America in the killing of priests.”  

► Mystery of the Week: Significant staff departures at Religion News Service. (Leading to this.)

► Watchdog blogger Warren Throckmorton says everyone who has or is contributing to Gospel for Asia needs to read this report of a February federal hearing into the organization’s finances.

► Rewriting a widely used liturgical resource: “Proposals to incorporate marriage rites used by same-sex couples into the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church in the United States will increase pressure in the Church of England to “dissociate” itself, the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, has warned. In a letter to the Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which has produced the proposals, Mr Nye writes that… the Episcopal Church could face ‘calls for more, and more stringent, consequences’ if it authorizes new rites.”

► Sadly, the case against Bill Hybels intensifies with new allegations. Also… the letter (4/20) the WC elders sent to the church community.

► After so many stories of crosses being taken down in government buildings and public spaces, how about the opposite? “A cross will be hanging in all Bavarian government authority buildings from June 1, following a decision by the state cabinet. The symbol is meant to signal a Christian cultural identity, according to Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder. ‘The cross is not the sign of a religion,’ he said after the cabinet meeting.

► File this one away and see if comes up anytime again: The phrase, ‘Prince of the Church.’ “[Friedrich] Schleiermacher chooses the term carefully, demurring from ‘Father of the Church’ as a possibility, because it is already used in a stipulated sense (i.e. of certain figures from the ancient church); but, like that term, Schleiermacher’s new term does not indicate some sort of office, and is the furthest thing from clericalism. though the prince of the church wields authority, it is authority of an informal kind: the authority of understanding, prudence, and piety.”

► A documentary film has Hillsong, TobyMac and Bethel Music in its sights in this half hour Australian production, “New Age Christianity Infiltrating the Church.”

► At the movies, at least in the UK, is the film Two Crowns. It’s based on the life of a man who, as a prisoner in Auswich, has probably turned up as a sermon illustration in your church at least once. [Or, watch the trailer.]

► Trending? In a mobile phone, laptop world does a pastor need a physical office anymore? Here are six reasons to rethink the office-required paradigm

► You’ve already seen the technology at consumer electronics shows or maybe you know someone who owns a headset. Watch out, though, because it could be the next frontier in p0rn0graphy.

► The hero in the Waffle House shooting is the same guy who started a GoFundMe page for the victims. As of Tuesday night, it was up to $120k.

► The Bible is overrated. So say the editors of GQ, a popular men’s magazine. Last week they published a list of “21 books you don’t have to read and 21 you should read instead.” At #12, Agota Kristof’s novel The Notebook was recommended as a substitute for The Good Book.

► Word of the Week: Sequelvations. “Christians often joke about their first, second and third times getting saved. Many have stories of fourth, fifth or even tenth times! Some folks get saved on a weekly basis, just for good measure. Churches love those hands. They look killer on spreadsheets and metrics. Maybe your first salvation was the result of an emotionally-charged situation, peer pressure or fear. Maybe that led to subsequent salvations (or sequelvations), because you felt the need to double-check your security. It’s the equivalent of driving home at lunch to make sure you didn’t leave the iron on. Also, no one calls them sequelvations. We made that up.”

► A pastor is claiming that the Oprah Winfrey Network show Greenleaf was the idea of himself and another person, and idea they pitched to that same network years earlier. ““[T]hey didn’t even seek to hide the theft; they used the same character names, and copied verbatim unique and novel storylines, themes, subplots and the overall tone of the show. They even named their antagonist after Plaintiff Pastor Barrie (Pastor Basie in ‘Greenleaf’).” 

► Strangest thing you’ll read all week: “Grave sucking, sometimes called grave soaking, is the process by which someone lays on the grave of a deceased Christian in order to absorb their mantle or anointing.” That, plus a connection to Jesus Culture and Bethel Church.

► If you’re free tonight (4/25) and in San Francisco, you’re invited to a Beyoncé Mass at Grace Cathedral. “to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten, particularly Black women.” There will be a sermon by Rev. Yolanda Norton, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary, will be preaching. Rev. Norton created a ‘Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible’ class at the Seminary.

► Finally, does your church worship team have an aerialist? All the cool churches are doing it. (And here, one writer responds.)

Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free faith blogging with fresh posts every day.

April 18, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Baptist Food Pyramid: This Babylon Bee article, published exactly one year ago today, is accessed by clicking the image.

Finding True Religion: I took this picture a few weeks ago at Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Apparently True Religion is a brand of denim jeans. Click the image to visit their site.

I’m writing the introduction at 5:30 PM yesterday with the list not quite finished. This week really came together and in some respects I feel that this is one of the best Wednesday Link Lists (or whatever we call it now) that I’ve ever completed. I hope you’ll take the time — and it does take time — to read several of these which might interest you and share the link with your friends using this shortlink:

► Your Article of the Week: “I’ll never forget hearing the phrase, ‘Make Sunday morning the best hour of their week!’ encouraging ministers to focus all of their attention on making that Sunday morning hour so popping, so exciting, so over-the-top memorable and fun, that kids couldn’t wait to come back. However, the trade-off for that is that we had to create programs that appealed primarily to the senses and not necessarily to the soul and spirit.”

► Your Quotation of the Week: “At this point in the pontificate of Francis, I believe it can be reasonably maintained that this marks the twilight of that imposing historical reality which can be defined as ‘Roman Catholicism.’ This does not mean, properly understood, that the Catholic Church is coming to an end, but that what is fading is the way in which it has historically structured and represented itself in recent centuries.” The writer then argues that Francis is using the playbook written by Martin Luther.

► Provocative Headline of the Week: “New Documents Reveal How the FBI Deployed a Televangelist to Discredit Martin Luther King.” The article details how “the bureau colluded with Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, then a widely successful black radio preacher and televangelist, in their campaign against King.”

► As the Global Ambassador for The World Evangelical Alliance, Brian Stiller prepares to travel to a symposium on the subject, a look at what it means to be (called) Evangelical. “While the recent sharp reaction to the use of the label has come about in the U.S., in part because of divisions following the 2016 presidential election, a decision on what name best suits us globally is not a choice we can leave for Americans to decide. The U.S. does not set the agenda for the world, and we should not assume that what matters to them will define what matters globally. As influential as they are, and recognizing that American concerns do affect the world, the real place of evangelical growth is in the global south (Asia, Africa and Latin America).” (Be sure to also check out Brian’s new book from IVP, From Jerusalem to Timbuktu.)

► Congratulations to Terry Mattingly: “This week marks my 30th anniversary writing this national  ‘On Religion’ column. The first piece ran on April 11, 1988 and focused – wait for it – on arguments about evangelicals and White House politics. Turn, turn, turn. Three decades is a long time, so allow me to pause and make something clear. I still believe that if journalists want to cover real news in the real lives of real people in the real world then they need to get real serious about religion.”

► Monday was not a good day for U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, on trial in Turkey. “The day’s hearing ended with the court ordering Brunson back the prison where he was first held after he was detained in 2016, said the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington D.C. advocacy agency that is supporting the pastor’s defense. It is a facility where nearly two dozen inmates are held to a cell, the center said. ‘Instead of being returned to the prison where he had been held most recently, the judge ordered Pastor Andrew to be taken back to an overcrowded and extremely grim prison where he was held initially,’ said the center’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow. ‘As you can imagine, the news is devastating to Pastor Andrew and his family.'”  (Background: The BBC reports “Andrew Brunson is accused of helping a group led by Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim preacher who Turkish authorities allege was behind a failed 2016 coup.”)

► Allow me to go off on a tangent with this one. The article on lesser-known Bible translations, stressing the value of translation by committee, does recognize that we tend to celebrate the work of individual translators, mentioning Jerome, Tyndale, Luther, Jan Hus, and Robert Morrison. Really? So why is that we have some who now despise this very type of solo effort, condemning the work of Eugene Peterson (The Message) or Brian Simmons (The Passion Translation)? Makes no sense. If you have a CT subscription, or they haven’t pay-walled this by Wednesday, checkout Ten Bible Translations You’ve Never Heard Of (even though most readers certainly have heard of several of them.)

► Your word of the Week: Intercommunion.  “the German Church has been thrown deeper into controversy after seven bishops appealed to the Vatican against new guidelines that would allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion…The more fundamental problem with intercommunion is that, even if the form is similar, different religious communities often have very different understandings of what Communion means…Either the sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ, or it is not. If it is viewed simply as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, that is another thing entirely. This is why, under established Catholic teaching, intercommunion is possible with the Orthodox Churches – though limited in practice – but not with most Protestant denominations, simply because they don’t agree with the Catholic view of what Communion actually is.

► End of the world predictions: Ed Stetzer–
I emailed…January 15, 2018 after his last prediction failed. I wrote him:
It looks like all those predictions did not come together. I wonder if you regret them now and the embarrassment they’ve caused so many Christians?
…He explained that “revelation is progressive.”
But, it’s not…You are either a fraud or a fool, and it’s time for you to stop making Christians look foolish.

► Poverty in Kissimmee, Florida: “It seems obscene that such poverty exists in the shadow of the Happiest Place on Earth, perhaps even persisting under its watch. That the person serving my churro or checking my seatbelt on Magic Mountain could be living out of a derelict motel should be a devastating realization. A single day pass to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom costs $115, which means some of the park’s workers likely cannot afford the luxury of taking their family to visit Mickey and friends…. While we may cringe at the idea of seeing such raw stories played out on screen— 6-year-olds swearing at adults, spying on the topless elderly woman tanning at the pool, finagling adults into giving them ice cream money—assuming this all to be some horrific parable about the doctrine of total depravity, simply because the images are uncomfortable does not mean that they can be ignored.

► Bible Contradictions: Six discrepancies that don’t actually exist. “Sample #3: James and Paul teach two different salvations. …The book of James would seem to teach a contradictory salvation of faith plus works (Ja. 2:14-17). However, the book of James never denies faith is necessary for salvation. Its focus on works is to show that live faith, like a live tree, blossoms and bears fruit…This is not denying justification by faith but simply showing that justification and sanctification are connected, albeit in a strict order.”

► Muting the choir so that you can hear the soloists: A parable on the danger of spiritual over-activity.

► Writing runs in the family: “I now find it much easier to find satisfaction in the small things in life. The beauty of a house in my neighborhood, an interesting piece of poetry, playing with my roommate’s dogs. All these things add up and make life much more enjoyable.” My son’s story about learning to appreciate anxiety-inhibiting drugs.

► Live near or within driving distance of Toronto, Canada? Here’s a last-minute notice for Thriving in a Babylon, a conference on living in a secular world happening this weekend.

► New Podcast: Just listening to Episode 1 of this 30-minute journey into eschatology. “If you’re ready to leave behind Left Behind: we get it. If you’ve been traumatized by doom-and-gloom preaching: let us bring you a good old-fashioned dose of hope. Together, we’ll explore the New Testament passages about the so-called ‘End,’ in intelligent and humanizing ways.” Host Kurt Willems has IMHO one of the best teachings (on his other podcast, The Paulcast) on understanding “caught up to meet him in the air” from 1 Thessalonians. So I can safely say that I think you’ll find the podcast, Rapture Drill most interesting.

► The Chicken and the Big Apple: Chick-fil-A arrives in New York City. “…the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city. And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism. Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays. Its C.E.O., Dan Cathy, has been accused of bigotry for using the company’s charitable wing to fund anti-gay causes, including groups that oppose same-sex marriage…” The company “…is set to become the third-largest fast-food chain in the nation, behind only McDonald’s and Starbucks.”

► Words about Worship: 20 Quotations about worship for worship leaders. (The headline adds, “by worship leaders” but not sure how that applies to any of the people quoted.)

► Sexual misconduct allegations happen to atheist groups as well. The head of American Atheists, David Silverman is out.

► You thought we were kidding when six months ago we promised you, and yes, this book actually did get released. (We offer the CBD page as proof!) “An intriguing look at the enigmatic prophecies surrounding the Trump presidency. Examining how the chaos enveloping the world could signal the beginning of the end-time awakening, the authors explore the president’s interest in rebuilding the third temple in Jerusalem, the global economic “reset” announced by the International Monetary Fund, the establishment’s hidden agenda, and more.” 

► I thought this was going to be something you’d expect to see on “The List” or “Access Hollywood” or “Entertainment Tonight.” But then Brittany Valadez surprised me with these 19 surprising facts about Paul, Apostle of Christ.

► There are still many bloggers who command a large daily readership, but how many have a Spanish language edition? Consider Tim Challies, bloguero, autor, y comentarista de libros. (Coming soon — I hope — the Internet Monk blog in Latin.)

► The weight of the matter: A Kentucky Baptist pastor realized he needed to do something when he was weighing in at nearly 500 pounds (223 kg). “I had lost my prophetic voice,” [Jeremy] Atwood said. “How are you going to speak to someone about their sin when you weigh 491 pounds?”

► I wasn’t going to go back to him again so soon, but Justin Bieber apparently led a worship set at one of the two weekends of the Coachella Festival. (He is bringing his faith into view more frequently…it’s an interesting trajectory.)

► In other celeb news from Relevant Magazine, Catholic nuns appealing to Pope Francis stop Katy Perry from closing the deal on the purchase of a convent in California. Sister Callahan of the Sisters of the Most Immaculate Heart stated, “in selling to Katy Perry, we feel we are being forced to violate our canonical vows to the Catholic Church.” 

► The YouTube channel Mahima Ko Aawaz features worship songs in Hindi or Nepali. This one is titled Hallujhea vandai Hosana. Or for something more professionally produced, check out Mero Chattan. ♫

► Televangelist Ernest Angley is back in the news. “The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals…decided to overturn a 2017 ruling that required Cathedral Buffet and Angley himself to pay more than $388,000 in back wages owed to workers as well as damages.  The latest appeals court ruling, which was unanimously decided by a three judge panel on Monday, said the workers did not expect to be paid for their work at buffet, meaning Angley did not violate fair labor laws. Angley claims that the buffet never made a profit.”

► Truth is stranger… “A woman has sued the pastor of a megachurch in Georgia for pushing her head while praying for her, causing her to fall down to the ground and hit her head. She says she got a traumatic brain injury due to the incident. Since her fall last year, [Yvonne] Byrd has had headaches and dizziness, and has visited hospitals several times, he said, adding that the church’s insurance company has refused to cover the medical bills which is why Byrd filed a lawsuit against the church and the pastor.”

► Finally, Christian comedian Jon Crist and his wife are on vacation and trying to find a church.

Coming This Weekend to an Imaginary Location Near You: ♫ The Christian Coachella Festival ♫ (via. Jon Crist)

April 11, 2018

Wednesday Connect

We’re back! This week things are in a rather mixed-up order, so you’ll have to read carefully. Don’t forget to have your suggestions in by 5:00 PM on Tuesday and thanks to those of you who do.

►► In case you missed it, Bill Hybels has stepped down from leading Willow Creek, six months ahead of schedule. “Hybels had been the subject of inquiries by church leaders into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation — including employees — allegedly spanning decades.” Update: Full statement by Hybels, board chair Pam Orr and lead pastor Heather Larson, including a link to full video of the church meeting Tuesday night.

► On Monday morning in London, a man caused a panic on a commuter train simply by reading the Bible out loud. With commentary. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about something and that something is the word of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s here to heal your sins. The Bible tells you that homosexuality is a sin and sex before marriage is a sin. You need to repent.” People forced open the doors and spilled out onto the tracks; dangerous because the train is powered by the third rail.

► If you’re a donor to a Christian college or university, you know there are always things they’d like to do with your donations. Expand the library. Add a science lab. Offer more student scholarships. Or, on the other hand, you could follow the example of Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Liberty University and spend $3 Million on a gun range which “allows pistol and rifle shooters to come out and perfect their aim.” (For context, the school has had “3,000 students go through their free firearms training safety program.”)

► Then there’s this 49-second video of the Stronger Men’s Conference happening this weekend in Springfield, Missouri with Craig Groeschel, Louie Giglio as well as MMA fighters, pyrotechnics, loud music, drum ensemble, guns that shoot fire, screaming preachers and more! This ain’t your father’s Promise Keepers event, that’s for sure.

► Debriefing the weekend’s Red Letter Revival in Lynchburg: “Compared to other evangelical conferences that often boast larger numbers, the revival was small. Roughly 300 to 350 people crowded into the E.C. Glass High School auditorium — where Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke — Friday evening.” “[Tony] Campolo also drew a distinction between religious disagreement and personal attacks, noting that Jesus’ disciples often had heated disputes. He pointed to his own televised debates with Jerry Falwell Sr. — Jerry Falwell Jr.’s father — as proof that theological sparring partners can disagree respectfully.” “Participants said it’s still too soon to say whether the revival was a success, or what success even looks like. ‘Ask me in a year,’ [Shane] Claiborne said. ‘It’s not about a moment — it’s about a movement.'” Jack Jenkins reports for Religion News Service.

► For those of you who have experience leading worship or hymns, there may at first appear to be nothing new in the first 12 minutes of this tutorial on choosing singable keys for your congregation. If that’s you, then fast-forward to 11:45, there’s an introduction of a fascinating software program that does a detailed statistical analysis on the pitches in each song with more information than you might have thought possible.

► …which addresses two of the nine reasons listed in this article as to why people aren’t worshiping.

► I frequently hear the statistic quoted that China is the largest producer of Bibles in the world, but few qualify that with the fact that few are produced for domestic consumption. Now, the Chinese government has cracked down on a loophole allowing purchase of Bibles by Chinese residents “as part of increased religious freedom restrictions — particularly against Christians. Other religious texts, including those belonging to Islam, Taoism and Buddhism, were still available on JD, Taobao and Amazon — the three largest online retailers in China. But none has the Bible available.” 

► Devotional: Amy Simpson on the absurdity of camping, which is what we’re doing here on this planet.

► Cuba in the late 1950s: “Some had heard that the Cuban State was conducting school trainings telling the children to close their eyes and pray to God for ice cream. Upon opening their eyes, of course, no ice cream magically appeared. Then the children were told to close their eyes and pray to the State for ice cream. The workers rushed in, giving all the children some ice cream when their eyes were opened, telling them that the State would now be their providers.” Returning to Cuba today: “We took a bus tour and our guide was excited about the upcoming election (April 19, 2018 is when Cuba will “elect” a new President). But there will only be ONE person on the ballot. How is that an ‘election’?

► Here’s some good news: You’re going to die! “My boomer generation has a serious problem with denial when it comes to aging and death. It’s driven, in part, by our culture’s worship of youth and beauty—60 is the new 40 and all that nonsense. I think advancements in modern medicine that prolong the inevitable have also contributed. Additionally, death has become so sanitized in western society that many people may never even see a dead person in their lifetime. More than ever before, we have been anesthetized to the reality that life is but a vapor and what we do in our short stay here will have eternal consequences… Social media and television have increased our tendency to be distracted to a level the saints in times past could not have imagined. Regardless, there is still nothing new under the sun and the things we fill our minds with each day will guide our course as surely as the helm guides the ship.”

► Related:
I was talking philosophy with my college student son the other day and I asked, “So do you know what fatalism is?”
“Something about death?”
It reminded me of the time I asked my other son if he knew what Nihilism was and said, “Something to do with Egypt?”
A look at the death and resurrection of Christ in light of the truth that “the ultimate fatalism is fatality.

► Women in Leadership: Jewish Edition. It’s not just happening in Christianity. Mayim Bailik — the actress from The Big Bang Theory — looks at the issue with a brief profile of B’nai David-Judea, the only Orthodox synagogue in Southern California which employs a female clergyperson. (3 min. video)

► An entirely new approach to Evangelism. For example: “We should also emphasize sin differently. Given that the Western world is moving away from the guilt model of sin, since people no longer believe in absolutes, [Author Sam] Chan suggests we should emphasize shame when we talk about sin.” From the Zondervan book Evangelism in a Secular World, a summary of the 12 ways in which evangelism is changing. (This could end up being the most significant book of the year.)

► Justin Bieber unmistakably declares his faith on Instagram in all caps (we dialed it down a notch): “Jesus died on the cross for my sins and then rose again defeating death. I believe this happened and it changes everything. I am set free from bondage and shame I am a child of the most high God and he loves me exactly where I am how I am who I am.” 

► The headline we wished they’d used: Invasion of the Peace Snatchers. (They came close.) (We all have these people in our life.)

► “You can’t just override [translators] because you have a Strong’s Concordance or a Greek Lexicon.” A 9-minute video using Logos Bible Software for those of us not trained formally in Greek or Hebrew.

► This item is partly an advertisement, but there are seven tips from the booklet Raising Kids in a Hyper-Sexualized World worth a look. (Sample: #4 – Don’t think “Not my kid.”)

► An article at Breakpoint links the Toys-R-Us closing to fertility rates in America. “If you couple child-free lifestyles with our society’s disregard for marriage and support for abortion, we will deprive ourselves of more than just toy stores. We’ll be depriving ourselves of a future… With trends like this in progress the closing of toy stores may be merely a bellwether of further effects of low fertility to come. Smaller generations mean smaller consumer bases, which in turn mean less economic growth, and further declines in fertility.”

► He pitched the idea to his Canadian church on April Fool’s Day, but CTV News believes he’s serious about turning the church gym into a microbrewery. ‘The church and the coffee shop are really the connection this day in our culture because what’s happening at coffee shops should be happening at church and we need to have a bridge. So here’s a bridge to microbreweries, which I think are great in this city, there’s something like, 25, they’re neighbourhood, they’re not bars, they’re not about drinking or watching a TV, it’s about actually engaging with conversation with one another…”

► The Flood: Was it global or localized? An excellent second half of the Phil Vischer Podcast where Skye Jethani sits down with John Walton, who has another volume in the “Lost World of…” series of books just released. Fast forward to 36:00 for The Lost World of the Flood. (28 minutes from that point.)  (Book page at IVP.)

► Speaking of the second half of podcasts, an analysis of weekend events in Lynchburg at the Clear Lens Podcast starts at 22:56. (22 minutes from that point).

► Fresh Life is the church pastored by author Levi Lusko. They have their own radio station which we’ve mentioned before. The station plays some of the original worship music produced by their church, like this song titled Walls. ♫ 

► Like your modern worship songs mashed together? This one combines Even If (by Mercy Me) and Reckless Love (Bethel Worship) in a tasteful acoustic medley by Mass Anthem. ♫

► Kids and Gambling in the UK: “Online gambling adverts that are encouraging children to start betting at an early age ‘should be banned’, according to a newspaper columnist. Writing in The Times, Alice Thomson said that adverts for online gambling are now ‘everywhere’ on social media and are ‘usually aimed at specific markets: the young and known gamblers’. Thomson pointed out that some websites are now using children’s cartoon characters to encourage children to bet on games such as ‘Top Cat, Peter Pan, Jungle Books or Goldilocks’.

► Coming April 17th, for one night only, from Pure Flix: The Dating Project, which “follows five single people, ages 18-40, as they search for authentic and meaningful relationships. There is no script. There are no actors. These are real people trying to find love and happiness in an age of swiping left or right.” 

► A dissenting view of the third film in the Easter season movie trifecta: “It’s a sad day when VeggieTales is pretty much asleep for the winter and “God’s Not Dead” is getting a third installment. If I told you one of those series had two guys getting their prayers for the car to start so they could go to Disney granted, which one would you think it was?” (But that was Reddit so you might want to skip the comments.)

► Finally, just before Chicago metal station 97.9 – The Loop became yet another outlet for K-LOVE in March, they signed off with Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil,” Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”  (Video of midnight transition.)



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.

March 28, 2018

Wednesday Connect

We’re starting off with a contest: What pop music artist was spotted heading to church on the weekend in this T-shirt AND what translation AND edition of the Bible is she carrying? Answer below.

A busy week with Good Friday and Easter Sunday approaching. April 1st is also the 8th anniversary of our sister blog, Christianity 201. Also, we went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ yesterday afternoon, which we’re still talking about. It’s too bad this film is up against I Can Only Imagine, but if you can squeeze it in — with God’s Not Dead 3 opening this weekend — I encourage you to do so.

► This week the bombshell dropped concerning allegations being made by John Ortberg et al against Bill Hybels. No matter how this turns out, there are no winners here. Since we’ve already covered the story with updated links on the weekend, here’s Get Religion’s summary of the coverage.

► While it’s too early to know where the above story is heading, Spiritual Sounding Board has updated a biographical resource for each of Saeed Abedini, Tullian Tchividjian and Ravi Zacharias.

► Church Challenges: “In a lot of churches today, elders are typically the lay, non-paid, leaders that make big decisions in the church, oversee the budget, and act like an unglorified board of directors. They don’t function as shepherds, they may or may not meet the eldership qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1—they are savvy business leaders or big givers… But in the New Testament, elders are pastors—and pastors are elders. Both Peter and Paul use the words related to pastor and elder interchangeably to refer to the same ministry. Peter uses these words in the same context of a single paragraph.”

► This week’s top read: Preston Sprinkle’s concise explanation of why he’s reformed but not Reformed.

► Sacred Sleep: In San Francisco, “An average of 225 unhoused neighbors seek safety and rest on the pews in the sanctuary of St. Boniface church each weekday starting at 6 AM, and for an additional 100 guests at St. John’s the Evangelist in the Mission. No questions are asked when our guests walk into the churches; in an effort to remove all barriers to entry, there are no sign-in sheets or intake forms. No one is ever turned away; all are welcomed, respected and treated with dignity.”

► Rachel Held Evans disabuses John Piper of the notion that patriarchy protects women, when in fact it actually harms them.

► As Lent 2018 wraps up, a 5-min video which was part of a series of 8 films; this one on growing through pain, a time of discovery and transformation.

► Jesus was co-dependent? It’s an interesting approach explored in this article.

► Linda Brown who died this week at 75, was the kid at ground zero for the end of segregation in American schools.

► Crumbling Categories: In the UK, “Girl Guide leaders are protesting against new rules allowing boys who claim to be girls to share changing rooms, tents and shower facilities with girls.” The original story was that, “Guidance released by Girlguiding UK last year says biological males can ‘use the facilities of the gender that they self-identify as.’ It also advises leaders not to inform parents if their daughter will be sharing facilities with a boy.” If a girl isn’t comfortable with these arrangements, it “could lead to her being labelled transphobic if she says she is unhappy.”

► A former Supreme Court judge, John Paul Stevens says that the 2nd Amendment’s line about “well-regulated militias” is out of touch with reality. CBN News reports, “Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that ‘a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’ Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century,” said Stevens.

► Julia was only 26 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer; only 28 when she died. Her husband Andy has put a website together to help people with information and support he feels will help. If you or someone you know is facing a similar situation in a marriage, someone we know recently started this website, My Spouse Has Cancer.

► This isn’t the most recent music video at the Northland Church YouTube channel, but check out a really special 7-minute song, simply titled Tremble.

► Releasing next week: The live Hillsong album There is More includes this 7-minute song, So Will I.

► Miracle? “Every Orthodox Easter Saturday in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, thousands gather to witness a flame ‘miraculously’ appearing in the tomb of Jesus…And it’s believed to have been happening annually for the past 1,200 years…It is said that for the first several minutes the fire burns, but does not consume. During this time, many of the faithful bathe their faces and hands in the flame, apparently without being harmed.” But is it real or is it fake?

► Television show Megyn Kelly Today kicked off a pre-Easter series on Faith with guest Carlton Pearson (8 minutes).

Four titles from one of the finest publishers, InterVarsity Press (IVP) are being honored this week.

► Did the American Jesus Madness 2018 end the way you expected? You’ll have to click to see.

► Finally, a man who knows both lumber and churches guides you through the various type of Church Wood Panel Backgrounds that tell the world your church is cool.

Here’s our second contest for today: It’s a t-shirt and it’s a Christian t-shirt, so what do you think it says? Answer below.

Contest #1 answer. Contest #2 answer.


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