Thinking Out Loud

September 21, 2020

The Spirituality of Nations and Churches

Filed under: Christianity, leadership — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

At least 20 years ago, I heard someone ask rhetorically ask, “What is the most religious nation on earth?”

The answer given at the time was India. I’m not enough of an expert in world religion to dispute this, so I took it as given.

Then they asked, “What is the least religious nation on earth?”

The answer given was Sweden.

Then the person continued, posing the question, where does (or did) Canada fit into this imagery?

The answer given was that in terms of this analogy, “We are nation of Indians, governed by Swedes.”

In other words, at the time — and I would dispute this today — the impression was that in the heart of Canadian people was a hunger to maintain a committed and meaningful spiritual life; a sentiment that was not echoed by those same peoples’ representatives in government.

The phrase “a nation of Indians governed by Swedes;” has haunted me ever since. (For those who tuned in late, we’re talking about people from India, not North American aboriginals; and the statement is a metaphor only.)

Yesterday, I asked myself if that’s not true of churches.

I would say yes. Often there can be a disconnect between the hearts of the people in the chairs each week — the members, adherents, parishioners, congregation; call them what you will — and the people being paid a salary to provide for the spiritual direction of the church, as well as the volunteer leadership tasked with overseeing everything, whether we call them deacons or elders or wardens, or directors.

One particular church came to mind.

The church prospers I believe because the people have a love for each other and a love for God that is better reflected in their personal interactions throughout the week, and in some respects, their small group involvement. In other words, not “because of” but “in spite of” the church leadership.

The leaders meanwhile are preoccupied with projects and goals and visions and programs that often may be described as shallow and superficial. Wood, hay and stubble. With the occasional mix of a tempest in a teapot.

I know this because I’ve been, at times, shallow and superficial. It takes one to know one.

The disconnect is huge however, and once one becomes aware of it, it’s hard to continue to be as supportive of that church as perhaps one once was.


Flag images: Wikipedia, though in fairness to Wikipedia, I need to say I cheated with the dimensions of the Canadian one, which in reality is much wider horizontally (stated redundantly for emphasis).

 

July 17, 2020

Cliff Jumping and Exotic Food

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

While working at one of the two summer camps I served at in my 20s, a few weeks in to one season I felt that the ten of us who comprised the senior staff were somewhat detached from the cabin life experienced by the counselors. Several of these cabins had extra seats in the dining room and I suggested we pick a cabin for the week and join in them for lunch — at breakfast key leaders were planning as they ate, and at supper we were debriefing — and maybe drop in to their devotional time once or twice or join them on a cabin activity.

I quickly learned that you don’t introduce structures like this when the summer is already in progress, but of the ten of us, three people bought in to some degree. The counselors were always happy to have an extra adult at the table, and the kids could ask questions about the camp.

The cabin activity I chose for one cabin involved taking the kids on two boats to an island where we would park the boats on the west side and then jump into the lake off a 45-foot cliff on the other side. I was a decent enough swimmer that this didn’t concern me in the least.

This is more or less what it looked like, though we didn’t allow the kids to dive. If you ever find yourself doing this, make sure you take a good step or jump forward to avoid the rock outcrop you can’t always see under the water.

Until I went to the ledge of the cliff and looked down.

I’ve known people much younger than myself who were jumping 65-feet off a bridge into a river, but for some reason I was gripped by fear with this shorter plunge mostly because I had simply never done anything like this before.

It was then it occurred to me that if these kids were going to have any respect for the camp leadership — and especially respect us as we shared Jesus with them — I needed to push back the fear and take a running leap.

I ended up jumping in at least four more times that day. I will confess it is exhilarating, but I also need to state for the record that this whole ‘leaping’ genre is something that still fills me with great fear. Anything on a screen where someone dives out of an airplane causes me to close my eyes until the story is over, or change the channel. I think the cliff jumping precipitated a few bad dreams in the years which immediately followed.

But I stand by my decision to do it. The kids weren’t going to have faith in a camp leadership made up of wusses. (Hoping that word still means the same thing as it did.) And for the remaining days of that week, those kids and I had enjoyed a shared experience…

…Fast forward a few decades and my mind goes to people I’ve met who are in a similar leadership position. They’re standing on the edge of the cliff, so to speak, and people are watching them to see if they’re willing to jump or are afraid.

The cliff they’re perched on may have to do with any one of a number of everyday activities, and if there are enough of these, their life become characterized by things they are afraid to try, places they are afraid to go, food they are afraid to taste.

And again, I find myself asking the question I asked decades earlier: How can people respect our Christian testimony and ministry if our lives are marked by such apprehension over so many things? But don’t stop reading here, because maybe it’s not 100% about him, but also about me…

…As I thought about writing this at various points over the past few years — I did a search this morning to see if the phrase “cliff jumping” was contained here — something dawned on me which had never occurred to me previously: This type of fear nag at me because it can partially reflect my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll try the activity (though physical ones not so much as the years advance), I’ll enter the place in the city that is foreign to my comfort zone, I’ll eat the Middle Eastern or central Asian food, I’ll fly to the vacation destination.

But we all have anxiety issues over all manner of things. With some people they’re buried deep and with others they appear on the surface; yet each of us has things which produce a mental or even physiological reaction when seen, named or proposed.

…I can’t help notice the preponderance of books about fear and anxiety in the Christian market over the past ten years or so. With Max Lucado — the top selling Christian author — it’s the major of theme of at least four of his works.

Christians are not exempt or immune from anxiety, and we need those reminders to trust, cling, rely on our Lord. Further to that, we also need to realize that seeing the fears others experience might exist front of mind because they are reflecting are own nervous apprehension over other, completely unrelated things.

We don’t necessarily identify with the particular object of the other person’s anxiety, but we certainly identify with the emotion.

July 7, 2020

The Illustrated Sermon on the Mount

Review: What if Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore – by Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers, 2020)

I first became aware of Skye Jethani through his old blog Skyebox and the Phil Vischer Podcast. I was immediately impressed by his demeanor which I can only describe as forthright. He spoke with authority and wasn’t afraid to speak to problems in what he called, ‘The Evangelical Industrial Complex.’ To learn that we shared the same denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, was just an added bonus.

Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of his books here. Skye isn’t a household name in the Chuck Swindoll sense, and his writing requires firing up dormant brain cells to appreciate his message. For example, in The Divine Commodity he uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif to discuss what it means to be a Christian in a consumer culture. In With, a book I called ‘the preposition proposition,’ he looks at what it means to try to live life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God when in fact it’s supposed to be — no spoilers here — another preposition entirely.

With Futureville he uses the New York World’s Fair of 1939 as a motif to discuss the effect of negative visions of the church. In Immeasurable he offered a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; a topic which is his long-suit when it comes to public speaking appearances. I’m pleased to own a copy of all four books and have done my best to review them here.

But it’s the book With that’s significant today, because in it, we saw a foreshadowing of what we get in his newest book, What if Jesus Was Serious? which is a series of restaurant-napkin sketches, or if you prefer doodles.

I’ve written several times in several places about the trend toward visual media. An increasing number of people are visual learners and several books have emerged over the last few years which infographics to communicate material that would have heretofore been relegated to the Biblical reference genre. Also, let’s face it, we’ve seen a drop in the attention span of many readers, and a picture can be worth anywhere between 900 and 1100 words, right?

This time, it’s The Sermon on the Mount that Skye Jethani has in his sights. It’s radical teaching from Jesus, so one can be forgiven for asking Jesus the question, ‘Are you being serious?’ Or maybe more simply, ‘Really?’

He breaks Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 into 72 bite-size pieces and each receives a two-page spread with an appropriate doodle. If you’ve ever sketched something on the back of some scrap paper to get a point across you’ll appreciate the approach. There’s also quotations from a diverse group of writers across the Christian spectrum.

Who is the audience for this?

A few weeks ago I recommended the book to a woman to give to a very mature 11-year old who is checking out Christianity. I don’t know that he is the intended audience. I also referred to it as a possible graduation gift. That gets a bit closer, but still not the target reader.

Rather, Skye brings with him to this project many of his views on church and Christian institutional leadership. If you know him at all, you see that reflected clearly. I can see giving this book to a pastor — who possibly has a whole shelf of Sermon on the Mount-related titles by now — as an alternative way of looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. Equally, I can see giving it to a recent convert who wants to better understand the teachings of Jesus. The book is layered if you know what I mean.

In addition to binge-reading it, it can also be read devotionally. Skye writes a daily subscription devotional called With God Daily, which was no doubt the genesis of this project.

But in the spirit of visual learning, here’s a sample. This link takes you to nine of the project’s 72 chapters and may represent an earlier version and not the final text. You’ll appreciate both the simplicity of the presentation and the bite or edge that’s contained in his writing. You can also learn more at the publisher’s website.


Thanks to Martin at Parasource Canada (Moody’s Canadian distributor) for an opportunity to add Skye’s latest to my bookshelf. This one’s a keeper.

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



May 6, 2020

Twelve Disciples Sorted by Categories

Two nights ago I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

This is content from Christianity 201, where much of my attention has been over the past six or seven weeks. After reaching its 10th anniversary, as I did with Thinking Out Loud, I released myself from the conviction I needed to post daily, but then the world changed and I felt people might need this more than ever. Plus I need to keep doing it right now. This one appeared yesterday.

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 …he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like stereotypes or putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting to look back and discover that most of those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing, even though others did. (Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us – Luke 1:1) If the others wrote — and we know they did produce some written content — their works didn’t make it into the canon.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of people like Matthew and Simon would pave the way for the Apostle Paul, and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that people are capable of leaving a former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very old C201 post.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael aka Bartholomew, the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life at C201 a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

 

March 28, 2020

Leader Culture vs. Servant Culture

In the first five years of this blog, this had already been shared three times. And those times were all before Brant Hansen had released his first major book. As a person who prizes humility, I`m always wary of today`s leadership culture. Let`s take a closer look…

Brant Hansen publicity shot from ten years ago.

LeaderMan vs. Servant Leader

I’ve had some people say, effectively, “Dude, you critique leadership, but don’t you think you’re leading people, too? Aren’t you worried about that?”

Nah. Not really. Shoot, I’m honored if I’m allowed to lead somebody, if I have an influential role in someone’s life. We need leadership — properly understood, the Jesus-type of “leadership” — like crazy. What we don’t need is the type of leadership I satirize.

We don’t need any more of “LeaderMan”. What we need are servant leaders, men and women who are gifted for leadership, whom people naturally follow, who point those people toward Jesus alone, our Teacher.

Granted, as always, I may not know what I’m talking about. But below are some off-the-top-of-the-head attempts at distinguishing one from the other.

———–

Servant Leader: Has something to say

LeaderMan: Wants a platform on which to say something

———–

LeaderMan: You almost feel you know his family, because he’s your Leader

Servant Leader: You allow him to influence you, because you know his family

———–

LeaderMan: Wants you to know he’s a Leader

Servant Leader: You’re not sure he knows he’s a leader

———–

LeaderMan: Loves the idea of the Gospel, and the idea of The Church

Servant Leader: Loves God and the actual individual people God brings across his path

———–

LeaderMan: A great speaker, but self-described as, “Not really a people person.”

Servant Leader: Makes himself a people person

———–

LeaderMan: Helps you find where God is leading you in his organization

Servant Leader: Helps you find where God is leading you

———–

LeaderMan: Gets together with you to talk about his vision

Servant Leader: Just gets together with you

———–

LeaderMan: Resents “sheep stealing”

Servant Leader: Doesn’t get the “stealing” part, since he doesn’t own anyone to begin with

———–

LeaderMan: Wants the right people on the bus

Servant Leader: Wants to find the right bus for you, and sit next to you on it

———–

Servant Leader: Shows you his whole heart

LeaderMan: Shows you a flow chart

———–

LeaderMan: A visionary who knows what the future looks like

Servant Leader: Knows what your kitchen looks like

———–

LeaderMan: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence

Servant Leader: Not exactly sure how to even calculate “worth doing”

———–

LeaderMan: Talks about confronting one another in love

Servant Leader: Actually confronts you in love

———–

LeaderMan: Impressed by success and successful people

Servant Leader: Impressed by faithfulness

———–

LeaderMan: Invests time in you, if you are “key people”

Servant Leader: Wastes time with you

———–

LeaderMan: Reveals sins of his past

Servant Leader: Reveals sins of his present

———-

LeaderMan: Gives you things to do

Servant Leader: Gives you freedom

———–

LeaderMan: Leads because of official position

Servant Leader: Leads in spite of position

———–

LeaderMan: Deep down, threatened by other Leaders

Servant Leader: Has nothing to lose

March 11, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Finally, a cure! And Jim Bakker has it. Call while supplies last. But first, see story below.

Seemed to be no shortage of people under the microscope this week. I’ve included some, ignored others. Don’t forget that you can always play the home version of Wednesday Connect, just follow @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter

Also don’t miss our 404 pages in the graphics below.

■ Where did all the Christians go? Alarming new stats from Barna Research shows nearly half as many Americans consider themselves “practicing Christians” as in 2000. Of those who aren’t, about half are non-practicing, and the other half would now be considered non-Christian. However there is hope: People are still reading their Bibles and praying at the same rate they were.

■ Despite a number of revisions to its youth curriculum, a close examination finds the Mormon doctrine that being black is the mark of a curse remains relatively intact.

■ When Jesus told his disciples he was leaving, is it better to say he was “changing location” instead of “changing form?” I ask because Steven Furtick says both in this short clip, but people are jumping all over him for the latter but ignoring the truth of the former. I think people are just predisposed to condemn him. (Pastors: What if your every sentence was widely posted online? Are your messages really that word-perfect? Could you stand up to the criticism?)

■ David Jeremiah was inducted into the National Religious Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame, but historically, that would not have been possible as he’s not in membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability over a claim he gamed the New York Times Bestseller lists, in a scheme similar to the one which brought down Mark Driscoll

Get ready for a string of COVID-19 stories…

Breaking: The Attorney General for Missouri is the latest to come after televangelist Jim Bakker for peddling a cure for coronavirus. He’ll have to stand in line behind The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Trade Commission, The New York Attorney General and others. It remains that “there are no known vaccinations or over-the-counter products approved to treat or cure the virus.” …

■ In Europe, “Cases of coronavirus infections have multiplied since Thursday, March 5, 2020 throughout France, especially among the faithful who participated in a large Evangelical gathering of the ‘Christian Open Door’ in Mulhouse from February 17 to 24…” Furthermore, “Participation in this Lenten Week, organized for 25 years, did not require prior registration, which complicates the identification of potential patients.” (Story is in French-language media.) …

■ COVID-19 scare? Bethel Church closed their Redding campus healing rooms recently. Skeptic/atheist websites are having a field day with this one. …

■ Six Christians were among the 100,000 released on Monday from Iran’s prisons in order to stem the tide of the virus. It included Mary (Fatemeh) Mohammadi whose story needs to be shared. …

■ And earlier this week Bobby Gruenewald the founder of YouVersion and Craig Groeshel the founder of Life.Church entered self-quarantine after attending a conference in Germany.

■ Three items this week from The Christian Institute:

■ How Christian books come to be: Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn have a new book about finances, but guess what? It’s not about money. (And this is from a couple that freely shares that they disagree about some aspects of financial planning, which gives the rest of us hope!) (Actually, she gets top billing on the book’s cover.)

■ Redeeming the Arts: In a world where a banana taped to a wall sells for $120,000, a short look at the God-intended role of artists, crafters, woodworkers, metalworkers, designers, engravers, stone-cutters, weavers, embroiderers; and anyone else engaged in what the author calls Presence-Centered Art.

■ Labels: “We need to take care who we label false teachers. It’s okay to name names—but we should do so only when we’re certain. And when we do wrongly label one another false teachers, we need humility to confess and repent.” Check the list of 9 marks of a false teacher.

■ Parenting Place: Concerned that Google is taking your children where you don’t want them to be? Try Kiddle.co for safe-search results, bigger fonts, larger images, and (to repeat) safe-search results.

■ More on the situation re. John Ortberg and Menlo Park Presbysterian

■ 🇨🇦 Canada has begun the process of making conversion therapy against the law in every province. “The legislation would also authorize courts to order the seizure of conversion therapy advertisements or to order those who placed the advertisements to remove them.”

■ After nearly 30 years as President of Bread for the World, David Beckmann is stepping down to be succeeded by Eugene Cho.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: Jesus Isn’t a Death Star.

■ The Book of Alternative Services: The Sound Bath Evensong.

During sound bath Evensong, ethereal voices sing sacred texts as a musician pumps a Shruti box, creating a low, steady hum. A single pitch from a singing bowl dissolves into sonorous overtones from a large gong. It penetrates to the core. The sounds are primal and soothing. For those who sit in quiet contemplation in the pews, the unique acoustic experience offers a chance to clear the mind.

Get Religion looks at what this Associated Press report included about the service, and what is left out. Is this even about God?

■ If you missed all the public service announcements, this church included one in their choir selection.

■ Christianity is a religion, not a relationship. Wait, what? Isn’t that the opposite of what you’ve been told is true?

■ Finally, don’t forget I Still Believe — the Jeremy Camp story — opens in select theaters on Thursday; others on Friday.



The website Church Pop thinks the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has the best 404 page, given that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Sourced at churchpop.com



March 4, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: Whose house is this house? See story * below.

We’re back with our weekly look at faith-related stories, as they appear to us living one international border removed from much of the action. I told my wife that the U.S. network TV shows weren’t on last night because it was Super Tuesday. She asked, in all seriousness, “That’s football, right?”

■ Coronavirus and the Shincheonji Church in South Korea: “In the largest outbreak outside of China, the majority of the country’s more than 4,335 confirmed cases are members of the secretive group, labeled a cult in South Korea and by the Christian community, according to a spokesman for the church. ‘You would be 5 centimeters away from the person who sits next to you, and have to say ‘Amen’ after every sentence the pastor speaks — it’s the best environment for the virus to spread,’ An So-young, a 27-year-old who left the group, told Reuters.” …

■ …And the virus means some SBC missionaries may need to be redeployed to other countries. International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said, “For missionaries who are at the epicenter of the virus, in places where the risk is high and also where interaction with other human beings has almost been totally shut down, what we have said to them is, ‘If you have small children or health issues, we want you somewhere else quickly.'” …

■ …and in Italy, in the all-important season of Lent leading up to Passion Week, the Roman Catholic Church has congregations scrambling for alternative ways to say the Mass, including streaming live on the internet.

■ Nagmeh Panahi, former wife of Saeed Abedini, shares her story with Pastor Neil McClendon and the congregation of Grand Parkway Baptist Church in Richmond Texas (58 minutes). (Interesting quote: “The first time I saw a commercial airplane it was really scary; I couldn’t understand that there could be airplanes that weren’t meant to drop bombs.”)

■ Tornado hits Nashville: Joel and Luke Smallbone of for King and Country report, “Many of us were up through the night listening to sirens, searching for information on what was taking place around us, and checking in with loved ones around Nashville. By God’s grace, we’re all unharmed, but the same cannot be said for our city- which has taken quite a hit.”

■ N. T. Wright on what the Bible says about women preachers. “Wright said the same question would elicit a yawn in the U.K. ‘We settled this one years ago,'”

■ Parenting Problems: Why it’s increasingly difficult for Christians to work within the constraints of publicly funded fostering programs. This is a devotional article, but you want to at least read the anecdote.

■ Polyamory: In 2020 this is a definite “no” for Evangelicals. But 2030? Look what happened with homosexuality. To consider this:

■ Know anyone in this category? “There is a tendency for the parachurch to become a quasi-church. In other words, the tendency is for the parachurch to become the functioning church of its participants. It becomes the hub around which the Christian lives of its participants revolve.” The writer says such organizations are not a proper substitute for the local church

■ If you see someone on Twitter or Facebook asking for prayer, pray for them. And then let them know you’re praying. Prayer request of the week is for Olivia, daughter of @BibleBacon. (See Feb. 21, 22, 25, 26.)

■ A prominent Reformed writer asks his denomination if they are taking the Bible seriously when it comes to teaching on Satan and the demonic realm. (Kicks of a series of articles.)

■ Your Church is not a cafeteria: Thom Rainer offers seven reasons the two are not the same.

* Got $1.9M? James MacDonald’s house is for sale. (More info in the comments section.)

John Ortberg returns to Menlo Presbyterian this week after completing a “Restoration Plan” with church leadership.

■ Honored: On May 5th a Christian publisher’s association will award Stormie Omartian for “the outstanding contribution of The Power of a Praying® series, both to the industry and to society at large.” “The series’ collection of 20 books, published by Harvest House Publishers, has achieved more than 31 million in sales worldwide.” (Note to self: Don’t forget the ®.)

■ Lauren Daigle and Hillsong topped the list of the top Christian songs streamed on Spotify in 2019.

■ New Music ♫ This item got omitted last week, but apparently some people must thing the new Hillsong Young and Free song isn’t Jesus-y enough for worship use. At least, something sparked this short article. (Video embedded.)  

■ New Music ♫ Paul Baloche is back with a new album, Behold Him. Check out the lyric video for What a Good God

■ New Music ♫ Back on October 2nd, this Bethel Worship musician’s picture topped our Wednesday Connect column with the announcement of his run for Congress. Check out his new song, Raise Our Voice.

■ Meet Naomi: Not a faith story, but on the climate change front, Greta’s got competition.

■ Finally, last week’s burning theological question: Was Jesus buff?


Someone wasn’t taught to close their eyes for prayer.
Photo: Reuters News


■ Tweet of the Month for February:


Top Clicks from last week’s Connect feed:

  1. If there were only 100 Christians…
  2. Guest Post at Julie Roys: What happened at Willow Creek
  3. Julie Roys at Julie Roys: Son of John MacArthur in trouble
  4. At what point do we say that the “unreached” have been “reached?”
  5. The Akiane art theft we never knew about
  6. American Idol contestant leads judges in a prayer

Click to see them all at this link.

February 26, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Crossing the Red Sea – 21st Century Edition



Today is Ash Wednesday aka the first day of Lent. Again, send us your recommended links; especially those ‘off-road’ blogs where you feel someone is writing something significant so it can reach a wider audience.

■ Starting off: What if there were only 100 Christians? What would we know about them? Gordon Conwell seminary has envisioned this in an infographic for people who might not grapple well with %-age stats, but can see it more clearly with a manageable number. Language, ethnicity, income and a host of other parameters are covered. (You can’t do justice to this on a mobile phone, however.)

■ Curiosity scandal of the week: This time it’s Mark MacArthur, son of John MacArthur and a Grace To You board member; and a $16M investment scheme. Sigh.

Breaking: Mass Coronavirus outbreaks at Chinese prison spark concern for imprisoned Christians

■ …Also from China, new rules which were due to be implemented on February 1st, would require all “religious personnel” to pledge loyalty and “total submission” to the Chinese Communist Party.

■ Question of the Week: When will the ‘unreached’ be considered ‘reached?

■ Trouble at The Holy Land Experience tourist attraction in Orlando, Florida, with most of the staff laid off.

Not Linked: I’ll let you find this one for yourself. It’s rather dark and depressing. Dan George guests at Julie Roys’ blog and reveals the contents of a meeting he attended as an elder at Harvest Bible Chapel. James MacDonald is again revealed to be the person that we now know he is and it’s not pretty. (Some days you wish this story would simply go away.)

■ A great commission (so to speak): ♫ Our friend David Wesley, known for his acapella and virtual choir videos on YouTube was recently invited to be part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations at Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA for which he produced the latest in his “Evolution of Worship” videos. For this one, Pastor Rick Warren compiled the song list and David arranged the 12-minute medley

■ Separation of State and Church: In England, The Humanist all-party parliamentary group, which is affiliated with lobby group Humanists UK, is calling for “removing the automatic right of the 26 longest serving Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords, arguing that bishops have changed the outcome of votes and have privileges over other members, such as when a bishop wants to speak and other peers are expected to give way.” They argue that only 14% of the population is Church of England…  

■ … Meanwhile, the Church of England is encouraging churches to be able to accept “contactless” (what we call “tap” where I live) credit card donations in lieu of traditional cash offerings.

■ The story of “Just Sam,” age 20 who led the American Idol judges in prayer. After, Luke Bryan joked that they should all get baptized.

■ For one bakery, people giving up sweets for Lent means packing all the inventory of decadence into a donut feast called Paczki Week, which falls between the Polish and American observances of Paczki Day. The Chicago bakery expects to sell 25,000 Paczkis.

■ I’m confused. Randy Alcorn is now at Patheos. (Or is that not new.) Just last month I reported that Scot McKnight had left Patheos for Christianity Today. However, Randy Alcorn’s blog is still updating at Eternal Perspective Ministries with different content. Can someone explain this to me?

■ Parenting Place: “Be careful of the amount of news you discuss in front of your children.” This, and other advice on keeping sane and keeping safe.

■ Stories We Missed Department: I was unaware that the painting of Jesus titled Prince of Peace by once-child-prodigy Akiane Kramarik had been stolen. In December, the artist viewed the picture for the first time in 16 years. [In a longer version of the story, check out what’s she’s painted more recently.]

Essay of the Week: A historical look at Willow Creek: “[A]nother unintended consequence was virtually guaranteed: the spiritual maturity of any new leaders would likely not rise above the level of the current leadership.” This is an excellent overview for people who don’t know the full Willow story.

■ KidMin: Lent activities, Bible lessons and coloring pages for kids.

■ We often hear stories about the growth of the church in Nigeria, but at the same time, the country is struggling with an increase in incest, even though it goes “against the teachings of both Islam and Christianity.”

■ Pop Culture / Kids Korner: The gospel in Frozen 2. Love is the one thing that’s permanent.

■ Hey, Pastor People: Do you preach from the Lectionary? Now you can bust a rhyme in the middle of your sermon with Lectionary Poetry.  

■ Finally, this:


Top stories from last week:

  1. What’s on the mind of America’s Pastors
  2. Michael Newnham on the SBC’s new sub-group
  3. The Timothy Keller tweet called a “train wreck”
  4. Internet Monk’s crazy Valentine cards

February 19, 2020

Wednesday Connect

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #90 aka Wednesday Link List #490. We just returned from Cuba, so forgive me if the list is a bit shorter today.

Wednesday Connect - color swap■ What do American pastors feel are the major concerns facing the church today? Barna Research releases its latest survey. (Personal aside: It’s interesting to read down the list and consider how many of these concerns would be worldwide, and how many are unique to the U.S.)

■ No doubt all owing to his not being on the pro-Trump bandwagon in a denomination where supporting the President is de rigueur, the SBC’s Russell Moore, and the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of which he has been president since 2013, will be the subject of an SBC task force which will study its finances and policies. There have been “anecdotal accounts of churches withholding money or reducing their giving because of concerns about the ERLC.” …

■ …Meanwhile, a splinter group has formed within the SBC. Meet CBN, the Conservative Baptist Network

■ …Michael Newnham brings his Calvary Chapel experience to bear on why the Conservative Baptist subgroup may not be a good idea.

■ Essay of the Week: Just as pastors are called to minister to the people who can’t be physically present in the weekly service, they are also called to those who, while present, are not entirely there. They have “heard it said,” but either don’t know or don’t take next steps. “And just as you are all bound together in your sin, so you are also bound together in your inability to save yourselves.”

■ History-making: After the Reformation, the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre de Genève was taken over by John Calvin’s Reformed Protestant Church, which destroyed the cathedral’s statues and paintings, and banned Catholic worship. On Leap Day, February 29th, the first Catholic mass in 500 years will be celebrated in the building

■ …And a longstanding Catholic tradition may be changing. “Currently Papal law dictates that non-Roman Catholic Christians, for example Anglicans, cannot take part in the Eucharist (sharing of the bread and wine) at a Catholic service and similarly it directs that Roman Catholics should not take Holy Communion in other Christian churches.” However, a UK theologian is challenging this position. The stumbling block to change would be the Catholic position on transubstantiation.

■ Some Christians have been challenged by the intellectual concepts advanced by mainstream author Jordan Peterson. It turns out the man has not been well for several months and is in Russia improving after undergoing a detox process from meds which produced the opposite reaction to the one intended.

■ A doctor whose practice is 100% devoted to providing abortions boasts about getting repeat customers.

■ LGBTQ themes, characters and ideas continue to be omnipresent in popular culture, including at Marvel Comics which introduces. “a character named Phastos who is Marvel’s first openly gay superhero.”

■ First there was the book Your God is Too Small. Next, someone should write Your Church is Too Loud. After paying $105M to purchase a former event center, Transformation Church in suburban Tulsa has been told their services are too loud. The church was given 15 days to turn down the volume or make adjustments to the building.

■ Jonathan Merrit called the comment section of this Twitter thread by Tim Keller “a dumpster fire and visual explanation of why American evangelicalism is in such a perilous state.

■ At the Movies: A review of First Lady – A Modern Fairytale, produced and directed by Nina May. (It rhymes with Tina Fey.) “It’s not very often that you see a faith-based rom-com like May’s.”

■ “Jimmy Carter was way ahead of the rest of America when he put solar panels on the White House…Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan, who was no fan of alternative energy took the panels down form the White House when he took office a few years later… [I]n 2017, [Carter] leased ten acres of land near his home in Plains, Georgia, to be used as a solar farm with 3,852 panels… Three years after going live, Carter’s solar farm now provides 50% of the small town’s electricity needs, generating 1.3 MW of power per year. That’s the equivalent of burning about 3,600 tons of coal.”

■ Bizarre Conference Department: The Mentors and Mantles Solemn Assembly is your chance to receive “THE IMPARTATION” [their all-caps] to “serve this present age.” It’s also “for those who want to know how to be empowered by God to operate both in the sacred and the secular.”

♫ Music Time Travel: A look at the Reliant K song Mood Rings, and how songs like this influenced attitudes toward women.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: Department of Justice Awards Federal Grant to Anti-Homosexual Group Hookers for Jesus

■ Finally, scroll down to the middle of Saturday’s Sunday Brunch at IM, and realize that sometimes Valentine’s Day Cards have been rather creepy.



Some links this week from Ann Brock or Mad Church Disease.

Articles used on Wednesday Connect frequently originate with Religion News Service (RNS). Two months ago I made a small donation to show support, and I hope that those of you who are able to do more will consider tossing money into the hat as well, to keep this service available.

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