Thinking Out Loud

February 23, 2015

The City Guy at the Christian Camping Mini-Conference

Short StoriesAs I thought about tomorrow’s 7th anniversary for this blog, I started reading some of the early stuff. This one seemed worthy of a third time around…I think that many of our organizations and local churches would be different if we could take this to heart…


 

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event. He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer. He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things. They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions. Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner. Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie. Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan. He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else. However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities. The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him. But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and mineral levels, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued, “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?'”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but lime and phosphates, and how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?'”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this. In any organization there are people. Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff. Some work on the front-lines and interact with the broader community. But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through. All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us. All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds. Those first impressions count. The love of God needs to be something we wear on our faces. There needs to be a difference.

“The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world. We miss the moment. We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives. We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people. We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded. He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question: In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, originally published July, 2006

 

February 21, 2015

Weekend Link List

Pete Wilson is one committed pastor.  Here’s what he did this week to create a sermon illustration:

Now on to your weekend reading:

I don’t usually write an introduction to the news and opinion selections here, but I wanted to say that while it’s not represented in these pieces, it’s difficult to ignore what CNN called “Religion’s Week From Hell.” Our thoughts are with the brothers and sisters worldwide and their families who have experienced horrible atrocities committed against them simply for being Christians. It’s hard to find words.  “…We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…” (Rom 8:26 NIV)

Must Read: Christian Moms of LGBT Kids Speak Out – “This week…took me to one of the most sacred spaces yet; a private online support group for a couple hundred Christian moms of LGBT children. Each day they gather virtually, to share a unique, incredibly difficult journey. I was there as a temporary guest, to be a resource for those present; to answer questions, and to encourage them in any way that I could. During my three days with these amazing women, I was incredibly moved by their honesty, their vulnerability, their thoughtfulness, their strength, and most of all, their deep and abiding faith. It was inspiring and humbling… Knowing they were safe to speak honestly in anonymity, I asked these moms of LGBT children one simple question: ‘What do you want Christians and church leaders to know about you, your kids, and your family?'”

Maximizing a Snow Day - I know, we should have had this at the start of the week. “My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.” Sample: “Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time?” Seven short suggestions to keep on file.

The Scriptures in Their Own Place and Time - Because of my interest in John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, I was interested to see what reviewers said about his new release (co-authored with D. Brent Sandy), The Lost World of Scripture. (I guess this is a brand now!) One reviewer explains, “The primary emphasis in the book regards the distinction between literary production in a hearing-dominant world and literary production in a text-dominant world.” Another review quotes, “If we question the continued sufficiency of the term inerrancy, it is not that we now admit that the Bible has errors. It is rather that the term inerrancy may no longer be clear enough, strong enough or nuanced enough to carry the weight with which it has traditionally been encumbered…If the term inerrancy, however, has become diminished in rhetorical power and specificity, it no longer serves as adequately to define our convictions about the robust authority of Scripture.”

Leadership Library – Something completely different this weekend, a book list. “Churches can’t say they don’t have resources for effecting change. …33 books that help you do just that. All have something helpful, but I have bulleted ones that have stirred my passion for change.How many of these do you own?

The US Has Testamints, The UK Has The Real Easter Easter Egg – “When in 2010 a team of Christians decided to launch a chocolate egg that contained the authentic message of Easter – and which also used high-quality Fair Trade chocolate and gave away a hefty portion of their profits to charity – it was met with a complete lack of interest by mainstream retailers. The Meaningful Chocolate Company might have had great chocolate and a noble ethic, but their religious meaning didn’t sit too well alongside Lindt bunnies and Chocolate Krispie chicks. So the company turned directly to churches and church schools, and received an overwhelming response.” Now some of the region’s top retailers realize they made a mistake.

Giving Up Lent for Lent - “God has called me, and you, into ministry to serve God. Not to have a paying job, not to pay back our seminary loans, not to create the programs we’ve dreamed of. No. We’ve been called into ministry because God called us and we said yes. At least, that’s my story. I was thirteen years old, and I felt God’s call to ministry. Some days I lose sight of that. I am frustrated at a board meeting or sitting at a blank screen trying to type a sermon, or looking at the decreasing funds and wondering if they can afford to pay me in the next few months, but I need to go back and remember, I am in this because I said yes to God.”

They Sure Get a Lot of Press Coverage - A UK Christian magazine is the latest to devote a cover story to Christian rap music. “I loved the music and I loved the culture, but as I became more of a fanatic I realized that most of the content stood against everything that I stood for. The glorification of drugs, money and misogyny never sat well with me, not to mention the bad language. Back then, clean versions of records were few and far between, so I found myself rapping along but taking a deep breath of silence whenever a swear word appeared. That all changed one day while I was watching a Christian TV channel…”

Bobby Schuller’s Two Churches to Merge into One - I kept thinking I’d heard this story before; it’s reminiscent of the situation where Tullian Tchividjian assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge and the church merged with New City Presbyterian, which he had founded. “Tree of Life Community church, founded by the Rev. Bobby Schuller, will merge into Shepherd’s Grove church, home of Crystal Cathedral Ministries and the Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller television program, on March 1. Members of both congregations approved the consolidation last month. Schuller had pastored the two churches since assuming leadership of Shepherd’s Grove in January 2014. ‘This move is a natural progression of what we feel God wants to do with our ministries,’ said Schuller. ‘The transition from Crystal Cathedral to where we are now was seamless, and the Hour of Power continues to grow and reach more people with the gospel.'”


This was from the Twitter feed of Unvirtuous Abbey:

Honestly, we have no idea what's going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, "For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. "

Honestly, we have no idea what’s going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, “For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. “

 

 

 

 

 

January 28, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is my Coach

First, we’ll look at what PARSE readers are seeing today, and then we’ll add a few bonus links:

  • Work Out Your Salvation in Fear and Publishing – Philip Yancey sits down with World Magazine: “I tell people I write my books for myself, and that’s true. I grew up in an unhealthy church. I’ve talked about that very openly in my books. It was almost a toxic church. I went through a period of time where I threw out that whole church background because I realized there were some things they had lied to me about… [W]hen I started writing, I realized I had the opportunity to pick up pieces, one-by-one, of things that I had learned in church, and examine them, kind of, dust them off, and see what the truth was. You can almost tell from the titles of my books…what interests me.”
  • Up in the Sky, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Apostles – An excerpt from a new book appears in a review by Tim Challies: “Some readers may suspect that the authors are anti-charismatic. They may expect us to argue that the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12—including the gifts of prophesying, healing, and speaking in tongues—are no longer active in the church today. This is not our objective. Many Christians around the world, including charismatics and classic Pentecostals, believe that the miraculous gifts are still active, and we do not dispute their belief. We’ve tried to show that [New Apostolic Reformation] teachings do not represent the views of most charismatics or classic Pentecostals, but are, rather, entirely different.” Read the review of God’s Super Apostles.
  • Three Things Megachurch Leaders Get Right – With 300 members, you may not feel you’re playing in the big leagues, but you can borrow their strategies. “In our experience, it is common for churches to accumulate a variety of ministries over time. Some of them get the attention of senior leadership while others seem to float along under the radar. If you’re looking to lead a church toward a unified vision, build accountability by keeping everything tied to your senior leadership team.”  Which brings us to…
  • A Liberal Gay Jewish Man Walks Into a Baptist Megachurch - After constantly driving by Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, curiosity gets the better of him: “First, these churches deliver powerful, personal spiritual experiences — which is a primary reason they’re winning over lapsed Catholics and mainline Protestants. The pastors talk directly about their conversion experiences. The service that I went to was a carefully, skillfully choreographed crescendo designed to inspire (and, judging by the enthusiasm of the congregants, successful at doing so). The theology is personal and experiential; you’re meant to talk to God, and hear God talking back…
  • Academic Avenue: The Role of Oral Tradition in the Synoptics - I thought we’d toss in some meat in the middle of the snack food: “But why can all three synoptics sometimes provide different wording regarding either the story or quotation of Jesus, yet some quotations will be exactly the same in all three synoptics? Scholars call these similarities and differences the Synoptic Problem.” Later on, “[E]xperts now tell us that ancient oral tradition was not only formed but performed. That is, early church communities further remembered Jesus by performing plays about these remembered incidents in his life.”
  • The Things Educators Believe Matter – Despite having high academic test score averages, a Christian school in the UK is in danger of losing its certification and having to shut down because inspectors felt the school reflected homophobic attitudes. Parents have rallied to fight the assessment carried out by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, a government agency. A ten year old girl was put on the spot by the question, “What is a lesbian?” and was asked “if she felt trapped in someone else’s body?” Worse, the girl now feels the school’s rating by Ofsted is her fault.
  • Why We Won’t Lose the War - Author Anne Marie Miller doesn’t ignore the statistics, in fact she loves stats. And she knows that many under-35s are leaving the church. “Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.” Yet, despite all this, she remains wholly optimistic; “…quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.”
  • Sorry, It’s In Your Contract – I knew a youth pastor once who worked in a megachurch that can only be described as a “sweatshop.” The week after his father died he asked if he could be exempted from having to be part of the platform party — it was the type of church where all the ministers sat on the stage during the whole service — and they refused him. And so he sat there, in full view of everyone, in tears.  I think of him whenever I see this healthy contrast:  The annual list of the Best Christian Workplaces.
  • Short Essay of the Week – A Michigan pastor escapes the frozen north to Cancun only to come face-to-face with with his own susceptibility to consumerism. As a member of the resort staff leads him into temptation: “It’s ironic, but our ‘all inclusive resort’ turned out to have some exclusions after all. Now here’s the thing: I was completely happy with my little corner of paradise until Shakira (yes, that was really her name) told me that there was more, and that – for only $70 more per day – we could have it all.” Did he purchase the upgrade?
  • Why Speak in Tongues When There’s Christianese? – “The Sea of Forgetfulness. Partaking in Christ’s body and blood. Dying to yourself. The mark of the beast. Getting caught up in the air. Out of context, some of the language used regularly in church sounds more like it belongs in some sort of weird horror movie…Some strange church sayings are direct quotes from the Bible, but to someone not familiar with the whole story of the Bible, they’re mind-boggling.” And speaking of our family dialect, the most recent post at The Dictionary of Christianese concerns the word televangelism
  • She’s Back! –  After a long absence, former co-host Sheila Walsh returns to The 700 Club for a 9-minute interview, speaking of her battle with clinical depression.

The family in the UK school story has the same last name but is no relation.

Now on to some bonus links for readers here:

Finally, one of the great products to come out of the Emergent Church movement, Emerjeans:

Emerjeans

 

January 22, 2015

As Christianity Loses Its Majority Status in the US

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework?  How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick AppersonIf someone decides to start something like Churchgoers Anonymous, I think I’ve just found your curriculum: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ published by WestBow Press. Author Rick Apperson has had his share of strange church experiences. Remarkably, just weeks after visiting some of these congregations, the place would shut down. Someone suggested it was like having Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote show up at your front door, but clearly, none of this was Rick Apperson’s fault.

From Pennsylvania to East Tennessee to Croatia to British Columbia; and from Catholic to Charismatic to Congregational; Rick has seen his share of church governance models, worship styles, and quirky parishioners. But mostly he’s seen hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If anyone had the right to walk away from it all, it was him and the book’s final chapter should end with total rejection of faith in God.

But instead, Rick, later with wife Sarah, perseveres. We aren’t told what drives this desire to keep attending even in the face of lies and false doctrine, but he seems to always be willing to risk the vulnerability of starting from scratch in a new place of worship.

Despite the autobiographical nature of Killed by the Church, there is much teaching here and I would suggest that at 132 pages, the book offers more food-for-thought than books twice its size. What’s more, despite what some would consider the ‘in-group’ nature of a critique on the local church, it is presented in a very simple, very casual writing style that might actually resonate with that person you know who has walked away from weekly church attendance.

Most of the chapters in the book conclude with a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection” where Rick does delve a little deeper into the life lessons underlying his personal journey. Then there is a section called “Taking it Deeper” which is a set of discussion questions that could be used in a group setting, but are also deeply personal to the reader.

I can’t say enough how much I think people who have abandoned church could identify with this book. However, despite the many ways that people in local assemblies may have wounded them, this book has a very positive spirit to it and could be part of their journey to healing.

…I’ve been following Rick’s blog, Just a Thought almost from its inception and have especially enjoyed the Five Questions With… series he runs with Christian leaders and authors. After years of association with Youth With A Mission, today he serves with The Salvation Army.

In the last chapter, just to show that God has a sense of humor, we learn that Rick and Sarah planted a church. Who better? 


Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of the book at Christianity 201.


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

January 18, 2015

Weekend Link List

Dan Phillips thinks that for many these are the doors to the ideal church:

Ziggy - zi_sun_c150111.tif

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

It turns out there are some links that ran at PARSE that we never posted here on Wednesday. So… here’s a weekend edition of the Link List; there are also some fresh links at PARSE you can read by clicking here, including a story about Karen Kingsbury becoming a university professor!

    • He Had Me With The Opening Paragraph – “I’m sitting in a donut shop.  I’ve been here many times and nobody has ever complained about this place, saying, “This donut shop is too donuty.”  It’s a donut shop; so you expect it to be donuty. No one ever said that a sporting event was too sporty, a library too booky, a concert too musicy, an airport too planey, a home too homey, a college too schooly, or a hospital too hospitally. Yet, I hear all the time, ‘That church was too churchy.'” A good reminder of our priorities, though I think you double the ‘t’ in donutty.
    • No I Haven’t Read the Latest Leadership Book, But I’ve Seen the Movie – Now you can actually say that: “We have all heard ‘leaders are readers’ but even though we know it’s true we just don’t have enough time to read the books we really want to. Our passion is to help other pastors and church leaders become more productive and effective. We do that by making short and fun video summaries of leadership books.” You can get that from a new subscription service at Ministry Library.
    • On Vanishing Numbers – Though using only anecdotal evidence, Wil Mancini’s conversations with leaders all seem to point to a single emerging trend: Church attendance is declining because of a decline in the frequency of attendance by members. “What does this mean? Simply that people who used to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.” He then offers some counter-moves churches can consider.
    • Sunday Choices: Church versus Watching the Big Game – “People have been skipping church for centuries. And though we may think we’re busier today than ever before, we should remember that in agricultural societies, harvest season sometimes interfered with attending church to the point congregations would gather for prayer in the fields. Pastors and church leaders expect congregants to miss from time to time due to health reasons, vacation, or occasional conflicts. But skipping church for football rubs pastors the wrong way, perhaps because they sense an inherent competition with the event itself.” Trevin Wax on worship attendance and guilt. (Also, some poll results at CT’s Gleanings page.)
    • Becoming The People We Have Despised – Benjamin Corey: “As I write in my forthcoming book, Christian Outsiders, once we begin to draw our identity from a Christian label instead of Christ himself, we quickly find ourselves in a destructive cycle of needing to police the borders of that label – correcting, chastising, and expelling those who cross outside of the lines the label has drawn. While fundamentalists and Evangelicals do this, progressives do it too – and I find it exhausting to deal with. Progressives do this mainly via the Progressive Twitter Police – folks who are probably well meaning, but have failed to realize they’ve just crossed over into a different kind of fundamentalism.”
    • The Military Model Church - David Murrow: “Have you heard about the church that’s building itself on a military model? It’s led by a general — not a bishop. Their clergy are not referred to as pastors, priests or vicars – instead it’s captain, major, colonel and commander. Officers go through seven years of training and are barred from earning outside income. This church even tells officers whom they can and cannot marry.” Okay, I think we know there is headed, but then he ends with a teaser that leaves me waiting for part two.
    • On Women and Girls Who Don’t Dress for Church When They Dress for Church - “I’m not sure if you’ve ventured into a Forever 21 or Abercrombie and Fitch lately, but being a young woman with a commitment to modesty and purity isn’t easy. Marketers aren’t pushing girls toward the ‘respectable apparel’ that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy but toward the opposite. If the girls in your church are going to live like Christ has called them to in this area, they are going to need reinforcements. Care for her heart, first, through love and Bible study, but then help her give teeth to what she’s learning by venturing with her into the mall with ideas and encouragement.” However, the author says you don’t start with confrontation or with that shopping trip, but rather you start with an open Bible.
    • It’s Not Just Megachurch Pastors – “Clearly, ‘lifestyles of the rich and religious’ doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis. The pontiff has said it ‘breaks my heart’ to see priests and nuns driving the latest-model cars. He’s blasted ‘airport bishops’ who spend more time jet-setting than tending to their flocks. And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the ‘psychology of princes.’ The Vatican fired one such ‘prince’ last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — aka ‘The Bishop of Bling’ — who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad. (Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricey.)” A photo-research story from CNNs revamped religion page.
    • Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Every once in a while I find something online that literally leaves me without words. I waited more than a week wondering what to do with a couple of websites dedicated to help married couples learn the routines of “Domestic Discipline,” where the “Head of Household” (read: husband) disciplines (read: physically) the other partner (read: wife). I offer it to my readers as an internet curiosity first and foremost, and secondly as a glimpse into the world of some (adjective desperately needed here) Christian marriages. Reporting definitely does not imply endorsement.
    • One (really good one) for the road – “24 Things World Christians Wish North American Short-Term Missionaries Would Quit Doing” from the Pathways International blog, Becoming Indigenous.

January 14, 2015

Wednesday Link List

God Told Me T-shirt

It’s that time of the week. If you also follow the links at PARSE, the Friday installment will be moving to Saturday starting this week. I guess we’ll be giving the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk some competition.

  • Distinguishing Between Values and Faith – “Strong societies are held together by shared values, and shared conversation is a vital part of that community cohesion. I derive my values from my Christian faith, but in saying that, I’m not claiming that Christianity has an exclusive on human goodness. I believe that we all derive our values from our personal beliefs; I also believe that a shared conversation about our different beliefs leads to more understanding, not less. And in situations like 9/11, 7/7 and Charlie Hebdo, it’s often in the context of faith that people try to find answers to the question ‘Why?’” UK writer Gill Robins writes frequently on values-based education.
  • Discovering the Bible’s Bonus Tracks – “…[I]n 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul alludes to an earlier letter to fellow believers in Corinth. We don’t have that letter, nor are we aware of its specific contents. Let’s say, however, that archaeologists unearth a clay pot containing a manuscript dating from the mid-first century and fitting the description of Paul’s letter. Should the church welcome 3 Corinthians as the 28th book of the New Testament? Not so fast… So, what criteria did the early church use as a guide? [Craig] Blomberg notes three predominant requirements: apostolicity, catholicity and orthodoxy.”
  • When Our Theology of Suffering is Tested in Reality – “Two months ago we were shocked by the diagnosis of our thirteen-year old grandson’s extreme headaches. Yes, we heard the dreaded “C” word; he has brain cancer. Overnight our lives were turned inside out and upside down, and the once-in-a-lifetime Christmas on the island of Maui with our children and grandchildren was out the window. By God’s grace we have enjoyed a relatively tranquil life, at least so far as health issues are concerned. No one warned us of this, and we certainly did not ask for it, but suddenly the theories we had espoused in trying to help others were put to a test at home.” A Wheaton College professor offers five takeaways from this experience.
  • The Problems of Great Speakers Who Try to be Writers –  The writer begins with a jargon-laden introduction, then “This turgid, cliche-ridden paragraph is my own attempt to capture the flavor of much that passes for written communication in Christian circles these days. The style is quirky; topsy-turvy is the word order; and the passive voice is clung to for dear life. It defies the reader to read on… Most of us are speakers first and writers second. And it is natural, therefore, that some of the patterns and habits of spoken English should creep into our writing. This is especially true of those who speak for a living (like preachers). Very often, good preaching is characterized by elaboration, illustration, and a general ‘padding out’ of the material so that the audience can take it in. Good writing is quite different. It is sharp and economical.”
  • What Francis Chan Teaches His Kids – “My daughter did bring home a guy a few months ago from college and some of my friends asked her, they said ‘hey how serious are you with him’ and they told me her answer was so weird. They said her answer was ‘I just want to hang out with him long enough to see if God answers his prayers.’ That’s a weird answer but in her mind that was her gauge.” The California preacher went on tell listeners to John Piper’s podcast how in their home, answered prayer is the measure of strong relationship with God.
  • Worship Service Down-Time During Announcements – Thom Rainer offers 9 observations about that not so special time in the service: “Most church leaders believe that the retention rate of announcements by members is low. If retention is indeed low, it would indicate that most times of announcements are done due to pressure or tradition or both.”
  • Was this Board’s Action Discriminatory? – So there was a teacher fired, and there is the element in the story that ‘the student was asking for it.’ It’s hard not to let your mind make up the missing pieces, but in this case: “The Phillipsburg [PA] School Board fired [teacher Walter] Tutka after district officials said he refused to meet with them to discuss his giving a middle school student a copy of the Bible. Tutka handed the boy, who had been asking about a passage from the book of Matthew, a copy of the Gideon’s New Testament in October 2012.” The teacher was suspended in January, 2013.
  • We Take You Live to Our Reporter in the Field – I know some of you have heard stories from the missions front lines before, but I know this guy. He gave up a comfy career as a dentist to do something he and his wife believe in, and now he describes his work in Rwanda: “I walk in to see (as my first case ever in Africa) a sedated child with a massive hole in the side of his jaw. The hole was not caused by a object, no, it was caused by perhaps a simple ulcer or infection that kept spreading. Because the child is malnourished, and was also battling malaria, and also likely was not getting clean water, and was likely a low birth weight baby, and was also not easily accessible to health care… the list goes on, he developed one of two conditions. Osteomyelitis – which is an infection of bone… or NOMA – described as a disease of the poor, where this uncontrolled bacterial infection knows no limit and literally destroys one’s face… Oh I forgot to say that he is also an orphan. But you probably saw that coming.”
  • Those Problematic Worship Lyrics – We’ve seen articles before on songs like this one: “‘I want to touch you, I want to see your face, I want to know you more.’ It’s tough to sing lines like these when the song never mentions who you’re singing to, and this one never does. The vague lyrics could easily suggest a plan to sneak around and make out in the bushes or a desire to encounter Jesus.” But this was the first time we’d seen this one mentioned: “‘Yahweh, Yahweh, we love to shout your name, oh Lord.’ Jewish people don’t write or say Yahweh to refer to God out of respect — instead writing the name without its vowels, YHWH, or using the alternate Adonai, meaning ‘Lord.’ So, to sing a song that not only uses the name Yahweh, but emphasizes the shouting of it seems . . . odd. The Vatican agrees — in 2008, it removed/replaced the name in all of its songs and prayers, and the Christian Reformed Church removed every occurrence of Yahweh and Jehovah from its Psalter Hymnal.”
  • Short Story Department – An accusation of plagiarism against Christian author and possible Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson ended very differently than another high profile plagiarism case with which readers here are familiar. The source copied refuted the idea saying that the 16 attributions that did appear reflected Carson’s honest intentions.
  • Parting Shot – Okay, this is totally superficial, but I think this church has the coolest menu for searching sermon series archives.

 

Well Done

 

 

January 7, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Cathedral Repurposed as Skateboard ParkThe above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park. The story reads, “Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.”

Cathedral Repurposed II


We’ll flip the order this week and start with some fun things, and then go for the PARSE links second…


Church Gro

For your own supply of Church Gro, click this link.


Here’s what we posted at PARSE today:

  • What One Woman Thinks of Women’s Ministry – “If I wanted to learn how to decorate cupcakes, I would take a class in it. If I wanted to be educated on strategies for decorating my home inexpensively from Winners, I would just, you know, go to Winners. Or Pinterest. But I’m here with you now because I want what the world cannot give me. We’re choking on cutesy things and crafty bits, safe lady topics, and if one more person says that modest is hottest with a straight face, I may throw up. We are hungry for authenticity and vulnerability, not churchified life hacks from lady magazines. Some of us are drowning, suffocating, dying of thirst for want of the cold water of real community.”
  • Pastoring Grief – “When we sit with someone who has encountered devastation it can be scary… This is one place I am helped by the Quaker tradition. In fact, I believe – if not always practice – that my role is not to have the answers, give good advice, or “heal” another person at all. All I am to do is create a safe space where he or she can begin – or continue – to listen to the Inward Teacher. My work is to create a space where their soul can be honored and held. This type of listening comes in the form of seeing each meeting as a divine “Opportunity.” In Quaker parlance, an Opporunity – with a capital O – is where both people sit, listen and discover where the Spirit is moving in another. Being comfortable with silence is essential, allowing the wounded person to be the focus of the conversation and to carry it where they will.”
  • Missing the Text Because We Know it So Well – “Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are… the unfamiliar-but-wildly-curious folks see things I’ve never seen… My familiarity tricked me into thinking I knew the story, but I had missed the point.”
  • Time Travel: Before the Megachurch Set the Agenda – “I grew up in small churches that my father pastored, but when I moved into full-time ministry I was involved in mega-churches as an associate pastor. I have spent my adult life attending large churches, and it had been many years since I had not been in a church service where the crowd outnumbered a Friday night high school football game. Stepping away from the big-church scene and stopping by to visit a small church turned out to be a greater blessing than I ever expected. My memories had forgotten the close bond and camaraderie that one feels in a smaller group of people.”
  • Lament for a Closing Bible College – “I am sad for the broader trends that this decision reflects for Christian higher education. Sad that theological education is no longer the priority for young adults and their parents that it once was… I am sad for how the news of Bethany’s closing is, in many ways, symptomatic of far broader church trends… I am sad that more effort is often put into hyper-pragmatic church-planting techniques than the preserving of spaces for theological education that has as its goal the forming of Christian character and the training of Christian leaders. But most of all, I think, I am sad that the world will now have one less good place where young women and men can encounter Jesus and learn to love each other in the context of community.”
  • Inside Female Thought Processes – “Am I enough? Sometimes, I don’t feel like there is enough of me to go around, and it can be exhausting.  When I was teaching, I would wake up and pour into my husband and kiddos and spend some time in prayer.  Once I arrived at school, I would pour into my students.  Once I got back home, I would make dinner for my family, run my kids to their various activities, and end the day by pouring into my husband and kids once again.  I was honestly a shell of a person.  I had been pouring out all day into the ones I love and doing  something I loved to do, but I was completely spent.”
  • Rethinking the Bible College Degree- “From early on in my academic life, I was confused. I knew that a Bible college would prepare you to do the work of the Lord; I knew I wanted to be a missionary in post-communist Russia. I was prepared to be poor for the rest of my life, but I didn’t understand that one could live in deficit, that dreams could be deferred by the crushing realities of student debt. When the financial aid office of my Bible college draped their offers of loans in front of me, I confronted them. Do you really think you should be pushing debt onto missionaries and pastors? I asked them… While this might be a workable financial constraint for many, it can prove crippling to the very students that Bible colleges cater to—those who want to minister, either as pastors or teachers or overseas missionaries.”
  • Making the Case for The Local Church as Dating Site - The same week the Christian Mingle movie releases on DVD, we’re offered a different view: “Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more. One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.” A call for the church to prayerfully set up potential couples.
  • Moving Forward by Looking Back – “I set goals for every conceivable arena of life: spiritual, fitness, education, ministry, publishing, financial, language acquisition, and even reading speed. These give me items for which to pray, plan, and pursue. Holding the goal in mind helps me know when to decline otherwise enticing opportunities and when to apply for those that are not forthcoming. But equally important—a discipline I am less faithful in—is pausing to reflect on past accomplishments…” Take the time to raise your Ebenezer.
  • Question of the Week – “Instead of asking ‘What does this passage mean to you?’ we should ask, ‘What does this passage mean if you never existed?'” You’ll find this somewhere on Julie Roys’ radio program said by either Michael Rydelnik or Michael Vanlaningham.
  • One for the Road – While other Christian news items were more pressing, this was definitely the year of Christian cinema, making this year’s list of the Top 100 films looked up at the Christian Film database all the more important.

From Daniel Jepsen’s blog Sliced Soup (click image to link):

Sketchy Church

 

December 31, 2014

Wednesday Link List

First, here are some stories that ran at PARSE last week that you never saw here:

  • Your Moment in the (Local) Spotlight – In all the leadership articles I’ve combed, I’ve never seen this topic discussed, even though it is often a part of ministry life for local pastors and leaders: “At this time of year there are a myriad of opportunities to speak on local radio, and now even on local television channels. I was fortunate enough to do a media training course as part of my ordination training… If you are on for 2 or 3 minutes (a typical interview format) you might only have five sentences in total. Time flies on air! So decide what is most important, and get that in first. If you leave your most important point to second or third place, you might never get to say it…” In total ten solid pieces of advice.
  • The Gay Wedding Cake Challenge Moving Forward – “A Christian printer from Northern Ireland who came under fire for refusing to print a gay magazine is backing proposals for a conscience clause in the Province. Last year, Nick Williamson said he could not print a publication because its sexually explicit images would go against his Christian faith. But the magazine’s editor obtained legal advice and the case was referred to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. Williamson supports the plans to amend equality legislation to introduce a conscience clause. The proposals were prompted by the case of Ashers Baking Company, which is facing court for declining to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.” The goal is to create a situation “where everybody’s rights can be upheld and balanced.”
  • There’s No Such Thing as Mental Illness – Voddie Baucham is a popular speaker and pastor of Grace Baptist in Spring, Texas. According to a recent sermon transcript, he stated, “Psychology and psychiatry — and they’re not the same thing, one’s a medical doctor who goes to medical school, a psychiatrist, gets a medical degree, k? And they can dispense drugs, and, and that’s pretty much all they do, just dispense drugs and [unintelligible] drugs — and the other one, a psychologist, you don’t go to medical school, that’s a complete different degree, k? But in both instances, psychology and psychiatry have never cured anyone of anything.” There’s a lot more of this on the transcript, as well as, on the same website, a personal response.
  • Redefining Reaching the World – “For decades, missionaries did not consider a people group “reached” until 20 percent of the population was considered ‘evangelical.’ Today, the statistical benchmark is 2 percent. What brought about this change of definition? And how has it impacted missions strategies? Dr. Robin Hadaway, professor of missions at Midwestern Seminary recently wrote an essay for the Southwestern Journal of Theology, in which he recommends a “course-correction” away from the two-percent threshold and back to something like 10 or 20 percent….The needs of unreached peoples to hear the gospel must remain an important factor in making these decisions, and yet Hadaway believes other criteria should be considered, including the receptivity of a people.” Trevin Wax reports on changes taking place, then offers, “I have misgivings about setting an arbitrary percentage for ‘reachedness,’ whether high or low. Every country or people group is different, with various needs and histories.”
  • When You Share Your Building with an Ethnic Church – One main issue for three Lincoln, Nebraska churches sharing First Baptist’s building had to do with the role of children in worship. “Jiang says the reason the Karen and Chinese worried so much was because, to them, the English congregation was kind of the leader of the whole church: it was their building, and they had been there the longest. ‘…the relationship is kind of like guest and host.’ No one ever said anything about their concerns — until a few months ago.” Text and audio at National Public Radio.
  • The Amish Television Interview – Although it’s a lot like the news reports where a whistle-blower is interviewed in silhouette, it is an actual eleven-minute video documentary of Amish life narrated by a carpenter and father of eight children. “Very, very few outsiders join the Amish, as far as leaving… there’s probably ten or fifteen percent that leave the Amish… they want their conveniences, their car and phone and things like that… If we are here as a pilgrim, traveling through this world for a better land then the less earthly possessions we cling to, the better off we are.”
  • Leadership Trials and Tribulations – “Someone who is not performing well on the team. You’ve warned them numerous times. They have exhausted their chances with you. You’re at the point where you believe it would be better for them to leave the organization. Before you release them (which is one of the hardest things a leader has to do)… Have one more meeting.” Ron Edmondson on the meeting before the last meeting.
  • No Staff Christmas Party Here - “Pope Francis issued a blistering critique Monday of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing some officials who lust for power at all costs and suffer from ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ that has made them forget they are supposed to be joyful men of God. The pontiff’s Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was no joyful exchange of holiday good wishes. Rather, it was a sobering catalog of 15 sins of the Curia that Francis said he hoped would be atoned for and cured in the New Year.”
Christmas List Lynx arrives just in time to wish you a Happy New Year.

Christmas List Lynx arrives just in time to wish you a Happy New Year.

Today we have an economy edition of the link list, as we’ve been given the week off by our PARSE overlords.

December 1, 2014

Spiritual Constipation

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

No, I did not come up with an appropriate image for this blog post.

I came up with this term on the weekend. I wasn’t the first to use it. A Google search last night produced about 3,200 results, and some of them I can’t reiterate here.

I came up with it in reference to a situation where a particular church is simply so bound up in rules and traditions that prevents them from seeing other sets of possibilities; other ways of doing things. Ironically, this is a church which has the image of being contemporary and innovative. Yet they are like a large boat which is landlocked. A wonderful potential, but no immediate prospects of really getting into the water because nobody is willing to risk radical change.

On the other hand, as we were driving in the car, we compared it to another church where there is simply a great deal of freedom. Even in terms of the Sunday morning service, not a whole lot is written down. This church has three quarters of a century of history, but is not afraid to reinvent the wheel.

The difference between the two is people. It always is. Some people are willing to let the wind of the Spirit blow and see where it takes them. Others want controls in place; not to mention wanting to have personal control and power. The idea of being a person of power in a local church ought to strike us all as an oxymoron. It is, after all, God‘s church, not ours.

People are not going to change. To do so, they would have to either want to change, or be told to change. Some do not see the need for the former, and very few people have the courage to initiate the latter.

I’ve seen instances in my life where The Divine Coach elected to simply remove some players from the game. Maybe they were injured, or benched or cut from the team. I would hate to be that guy whose personality is so getting in the way of things that God has pull me from the game. (Maybe that’s why, at Christianity 201, I wrote so often on the subject of spiritual humility, as I did on Sunday night.)

So…do you know any churches that are spiritually constipated? What do you think would be the key to changing things?

 

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