Thinking Out Loud

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 24, 2020

Worship Community Knows No Language Limits

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, missions, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

Four Canadians got out of the cab and started walking up the short rise to the small wood frame church building. A hot day, for we gringos, especially dressed in button-up shirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Because it’s church.

We’d come a long way to be here. Maybe not as long a way as the people who every week walk 2 or 3 km down and back up the mountain, but still.

Having visited Cuba a couple of times before and enjoyed the tourist experience, we’d started wondering how we could actually connect with Cuban people. The staff in the resorts are all very nice, and they all speak some English. But they wear uniforms and it’s their job to make those who’ve ‘come from away’ feel at home. The resorts are not Cuba. We wanted to make and be friends with people whose concrete block and palm wood homes we’d driven past between the airport and the reception desk.

I also wanted to go to church. We’ve travelled a bit and seen some impressive old churches in Europe, but never attended a service abroad.

I asked a Canadian friend who had some experience with this for direction, and he put us in touch with a Cuban pastor who is also an area supervisor, overseeing the educational requirements of 26 other Pentecostal pastors. Between his basic English and my aptitude with Google Translate, we’d emailed arrangements for Sunday morning.

And here we were. Walking up to the door.

The walls are a single layer of palm planks. The roof is red ceramic tile. The windows have no glass, but horizontal wooden shutters against the rain in the wet season. Out through one, we can see the pit where the pig was roasted for our visit on Thursday. Through the door we can see a sheep grazing on the front lawn.

The foundation is a thick concrete pad rising up from the ground, and tiled indoors with the smooth ceramic we see on every floor. The pews are unfinished wood benches with squared seats and backs.

The room is decorated with flowers made from twisted strips of brightly coloured paper that hang within easy reach from the painted, rough timber rafters. Encouraging passages of Scripture are hand written on signs around the room. A list of upcoming birthdays hangs at the front above a shoe box filled with small, paperbound hymn books.

Here we were.

We’d talked ahead of time about the fact that we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row, preferring the back or somewhere in the middle so we could see what was going on. So we could look around and ‘experience’ the service.

Yeah, right.

Stepping from the bright sun into the shady cool of the room, we saw that every seat was taken. Except for the front row, left hand side. A young man we’d met earlier in the week smiled a welcome and gestured for us to come forward and sit in the seats that had been saved for us. So, trying not to look put out, we did.

The pastor had arranged for a translator to be there on our behalf, but he’d been called in to work. He was very apologetic, but we were more or less on our own and, in the words of my eldest son, “We did pretty well. Between the 4 of us, we understood about half.” It helped that one of the young women who is a leader in the church ran next door to the pastor’s house and brought us each a copy of a parallel Spanish/English New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. She grinned as she gave them to us, knowing we’d brought them ourselves to give to the church. So, that worked out well.

The congregation began to sing. Or rather SING! It was loud, rhythmic, joyous. What Pentecostals do best. With just a guitar and some percussion, they raised the roof. Between songs, people spoke or shouted phrases, most often–over and over–“Gracias, Dios!” Hands raised, bodies dancing. Some of the choruses we were able to catch on to because they were simple enough.

It occurred to me that, if someone were speaking in tongues I might not know. Unless it was English.

But I wasn’t feeling it. Standing at the front, trying not to look like I was peeking over my shoulder, I could see and hear the heart of these people. But it wasn’t reaching my heart. I said to God, “I know You’re here. But where are You? Where are You?”

There was a disconnect between my mind and my spirit. I had already started wondering why I was doing this. Why was I in this room right now? You’ve heard of eco-tourism and adventure tourism? I was thinking that maybe this was just poverty-tourism. Come see the poor people. See how they live. Take pictures of their jerry-rigged existence–their cardboard box bulletin boards, their picturesque cracked walls, the sheep in the parking lot. Think, “How quaint” and put it all on Facebook. Don’t worry about the fact that they’re human beings. They don’t have Facebook, so they’ll never know.

That was my frame of mind in the moment. Standing in church, looking at myself from a distance.

When the singing ended, the pastor turned to my family and asked (we all thought), whether we had enjoyed the music and the time of worship. We all nodded and said, honestly, “Si! Gusto, si!”

Apparently the question we answered was not the one he’d asked because he handed the guitar to my husband and gestured us to the pulpit.

Oh.

Oh, dear.

What songs do we know? What can we sing that isn’t going to suck?

My husband whispered, “How Great Is Our God?” Yep, OK, nods. We know that one well enough to harmonize.

1, 2, 3, 4 “The splendor of the King….” Away we went. We sang through the first verse and started the chorus. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God…”

And suddenly… I thought, “Oh, there You are.”

People in the congregation started singing along in Spanish, “Cuan grande es Dios…”

There You are.

People whose names I don’t know and possibly can’t pronounce raising their hands…

There You are.

Eye contact and smiles and recognition…

There You are.

Speaking the same language. The language of a Kingdom we share.

There You are.

Somehow, I wasn’t a tourist any more. I was among family.

Before the service ended, these ‘poor’ people prayed for Canada. For revival. For Spirit power and fire.

They surrounded us before we left and all 42 of them gave us each a Cuban greeting. Cheek touching cheek, a kiss and “Dios te bendiga.”

And four Canadians walked back down the hill and got in the cab.

Dios Cuba bendiga. Gracias, Dios.

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.

February 17, 2020

Lost Voice 2: Lynn

Yes, I know, I’m re-publishing them out of numerical sequence…

When this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Here is another sample chapter. As I said the first time, why have one unpublished book when you can have two?

Philip arrived at his new church after nearly a decade of serving as music director in another state. He and his wife weren’t sure if this was the right move since he would have to supplement it with a few hours of part-time work, but after ten years, they felt it was time for a change.

Most days consisted of scheduling rehearsals, working with soloists, fixing the sound system, choosing hymns for the traditional service and choruses for the modern service, and, at the very bottom of Philip’s list, ninety minutes weekly with the church’s Junior Band, a group of children who gave new meaning to the word cacophony.

And then Lynn called.

She was the parent of one of the kids in the aforementioned brass group, and had a question about a particular verse in the New Testament, and Philip was, after all, part of the pastoral staff, and the pastor was on vacation.

It turned out to be one of those verses. One of the challenging, difficult and perplexing verses in the NT which can be interpreted a few different ways. So Philip hauled out all his commentaries from Bible College, and proceeded to offer Lynn some classical insights into both the verse and its context.

“How did you do that?” Lynn asked. She had no history with Bible reference books and was immediately hooked. She bought some commentaries of her own, and suddenly was enrolled in a seminary-level course offered to mature students by another denomination.

One course led to another and soon she was on an eight-year track of part-time studies leading toward a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. In fact, Philip, who continued serving the same church for the entire duration of Lynn’s foray into doctrinal studies and church history once remarked to his wife, “She’s gone completely beyond anything I ever studied; she can talk circles around me when it comes to a variety of subjects.”

But ultimately, Lynn also, figuratively speaking, ‘priced herself out of the market’ when it came to serving in that church. Whereas before she might be asked to read a scripture or lead a prayer-time, she became a slight problem because,

  • first of all she was a woman who aspired to fulfill a pastoral role in a denomination that hasn’t, to this point, allowed such to take place; and
  • her credentials come from a particular school that is outside her home church’s comfort zone, even though nobody had ever challenged any of her beliefs, her textbooks, or her professors; and
  • her entire journey on this quest for theological understanding made her a bit of a mystic in the eyes of her home church; she was present every Sunday but to them increasingly theologically and spiritually distant, even if nobody could explain why.

So Lynn kept showing up for church, but eventually realized she no longer belonged and gave up any hope of using her new-found gifts there.

The denomination that trained her found her the occasional pulpit supply role and she was paid as a teaching assistant for a few of their undergrad courses, but serving that particular denomination had not been her particular goal.

Eventually, leadership batons were passed to people who never knew the earlier role Lynn had played in the formation of the church. She was regarded as a total outsider, not because of spiritual decay, or sin, or apathy, but because of her desire to grow deep in the knowledge of God, and her desire to use that knowledge to serve others.

Lynn is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because she has so much to contribute.

February 14, 2020

Lost Voice 4: Dann

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

The Lost Voice ProjectWednesday I re-posted the third in this series and today’s was originally number four. I will eventually get to all of them, but if you want to read the two I’ve skipped so far, the links are at the bottom of the page.

Unlike the other people in this series Dann (don’t forget the second ‘n’) isn’t really in a situation where anything about his career, marriage or circumstances makes him invisible in the local church, in fact he seems to be participating in a variety of activities when something needs doing. The reason his story is here is, when you think of it, entirely superficial. But that’s exactly what makes his situation so ridiculous.

Simply put, Dann — who is Swiss-born and about 55 years old — speaks perfect English, but with a thick German accent. Everybody knows him and he usually sticks around for a few minutes after the service ends, but some people should really come with subtitles. People often have to ask him to spell a word so they know what he’s saying.

So there are, in this small-to-medium size church, opportunities for public ministry which fall to other people that simply don’t fall to Dann.

For example, he’s never been asked to do the scripture reading. Yes, it would be a little unclear at times, but would it be any worse than trying to follow along in the NLT while someone up front is reading from the NASB? I think we’re all accustomed to that sort of thing by now.

Or open in prayer. In his church, this responsibility gets passed around but it never gets passed in his direction…

…Is Dann a Christian? It’s a silly question in many respects, but if you’ve never heard someone give a testimony or had the privilege of listening to someone in prayer, you don’t always know. Even the passion with which someone reads the scripture passage can tell a lot about their faith. After-service conversations often focus on other matters. Katie, who has been a member of the church just wants to go up to him and ask, “When did you become a Christian?” Or, “How did you become a Christian;” because it seems like he’s a bit of a mystery spiritually. It’s hard to see someone as a leader in the church if they never done anything which exposes their spiritual gifts to the congregation…

…This all shows how much the modern church prizes verbal gifts. Guys who can speak well get asked to do the announcements or chair the men’s meeting. People who can orate get asked to fill in when the pastor takes his annual two weeks in Florida. And Anne, who has a beautiful British accent, always ends up narrating the children’s Christmas musical. “And they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; and the next morning they had scones with breakfast tea.”

Maybe Dann should asked to be baptized again. At the baptismal service, you at least get to share your testimony. In some churches, it’s your only chance to share something from the platform.

In many respects, we are a people of words; the Christian faith is all about being able to articulate it...

…Dann is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution to his local church might be significant, but after years of being marginalized, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to do much moving forward.


a continuing series about people whose contribution to local church life never happened

February 12, 2020

Lost Voice 3: Brett

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:07 am

About 12 years ago when this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Periodically I would add new people. I think some of the stories are worth repeating, so over the next month I’m going to run all the ones which were published here. I originally envisioned about eight characters here, getting together describing their church experience, a multi-age “Breakfast Club” of people recalling days when the church was at the center of their thoughts and activities…

The Lost Voice ProjectWhen it came Brett’s turn, he had to introduce himself to everyone. Unlike the other voices that had been lost to the church, Brett and his family were completely AWOL. He and his wife and been young parents of three kids, but when their fourth, a daughter, was born with post-birth issues requiring hands-on care, they simply stopped going to church since to do otherwise as a family was simply too complex.

It had been eleven years.

So unlike people who lived and functioned in the church as exiles, Brett and Kim were more literally exiles, albeit by their own choice.

Not that there were a lot of options. But one could have easily stayed home one week allowing the other attend weekend services, and then alternating on the other weeks, and that’s exactly what the members of the group suggested.

“Why didn’t you just take turns.”

Brett was silent. His oldest son was now graduating from high school. There had been some fragmentary contacts with the church youth group, but basically had grown up un-churched. His kids knew some of the Bible stories, they were told some of the family history, and all their cousins were involved in local churches in their hometowns. So on a survey, they would identify as “Christian,” even though that’s about as far as it went.

“Couldn’t someone have picked up them for a mid-week kids club?”

“Does this mean he missed out on the youth group retreats as well?”

With each answer Brett hung his head lower and lower. The situation was a complex as their young daughter’s care. There was more to the story. Though it was never said, there was a slow dawning of the realization that this wasn’t a story about a family who couldn’t make it to church because of a special needs child at all.

This was a story about two parents that withdrew from church life over a prayer that was never answered, a sadness that never healed.

Brett is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution over the years would have been both greatly varied and deeply committed. But unlike the other lost voices, an entire family disappeared from some church’s membership roll and left a huge gap.

February 5, 2020

Wednesday Connect

posted by @Bruxy on Twitter

For those of you who read this on the blog, in just a few days Thinking Out Loud will celebrate 12 years of never changing its basic blog theme, Gray is the New Black. Oh, and writing some articles also. Last week was music week here at Wednesday Connect. Scroll back ICYMI. It contained some really great music, but apparently that’s not what draws people here. So I’ll be phasing those out.

■ Hurry! It’s the bees knees! Be the first kid on your block to visit the new website for James MacDonald Ministries.

■ Parenting Place: With a pre-teen and two teenagers, you wouldn’t expect this family to make their next church Episcopal. “Questions permeate my thoughts, how will our children endure this shift, especially at this stage of their spiritual development? Is this even the right choice for our family? … I glance over at my children—wide-eyed, and we’ve only just begun.

■ The advertisement you didn’t see on the broadcast of the weekend game. FOX-TV refused to sell the airtime

■ …Opinion: Should anyone really have been shocked by halftime show?

■ Regulated to Death, Literally: Michael Frost writes,

A recent Australian government enquiry into child sexual assault by clergy recommended that there be tighter regulations around who can be called a “pastor” and what minimum training is required for such a role. I understand why those recommendations were made but they make it very difficult for those churches that want to encourage all members to see themselves as missionaries (or sent ones) in their own neighborhoods. One of the fathers of the missional movement, Lesslie Newbigin was well known for talking about the declericalizing of the church. That is, the blurring of the line between clergy and lay people, and “ordaining” all people to mirror the work of God in the world.

It’s one of five cultural trends that are killing the efforts of the local church.

■ A completely oxymoronic title: “The Comforting Doctrine of Election.” There was nothing comforting in this sentence of a Christmas post we’d missed earlier: “And often after the last present is unwrapped and the left overs are cleared away and you are in the car on the way home often a wave of sadness comes; those people you love so much are headed to hell.” No! No, it’s not over yet. Sorry, this isn’t what I believe. And how is this “comforting?” This is ‘election’ run amuck.

■ If you’ve followed the career of Rob Bell, you know that Mars Hill launched with an unlike series on the book of Leviticus. Now, he’s selling a Leviticus audio commentary titled Blood, Guts and Fire.

■ I’m quite sure the Harvest Bible Chapel saga continues to help sell newspapers for the Chicago Tribune. My favorite sentence, “While MacDonald’s style led some to bristle, he remained an extremely talented preacher who attracted thousands each week to Harvest locations.” Bristle. That’s the word we’ve all been searching for. The article quotes a church spokesperson saying that the church has lost about 6,000 people across six campuses.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Hillsong Worship Is Going on Tour, But Don’t Call It Worship.” Sample:

I’ve said before that there’s a reason the contemporary pop-worship church holds such a low view of Holy Communion. It just doesn’t understand the point. Music is their substitute sacrament. Through commercial music, they allow themselves to be carried away on an emotional level into a perceived sensory connection with the divine. When you interpret worship through the lens of emotional stimulation, the bread and wine don’t make sense. It doesn’t compute.

■ Persecution Watch: Pastor Lawan Andimi was part of the Church of the Brethren in northern Nigeria, and chaired the Christian Association of Nigeria in his local district. A few weeks ago he was abducted by Islamic militants affiliated with Boko Haram. “On Jan. 20 he was beheaded by his captors. Sources said Andimi refused to renounce his faith in Jesus. He paid the ultimate price.”  …

■ …Meanwhile China uses a facial recognition system to keep track of who is attending church.

■ It’s all Greek to me! Seriously, here are 5 Greek words that every Christian should know.

■ Pastor Worship: It’s apparently more of a male thing. “But when you ask a man about his church, the first (and often only) thing he talks about is the pastor. He doesn’t talk about the facilities. He doesn’t talk about his friendships. He talks about his pastor and the quality of his sermons. ‘Oh, Pastor Jimmy is just a regular guy. His sermons are awesome!'” “So what are men searching for? A leader they can look up to and respect.”

Essay of the Week
Unreached People Group: MAGA-Nation.

We need to bring the real good news of Jesus to rural Trump supporters and FoxNews-weaned Evangelicals and Conservative single-issue voters and to people embracing a white America-centric theology—because the truth is: the compassionate, generous, diverse, barrier-breaking movement and message of Jesus are as foreign to them as anyone on the planet.

■ Kevin Makins is the pastor of Eucharist Church in downtown Hamilton, Canada and he’s chosen a unique way to introduce his June title with Baker Books; so we get to let him tell you himself! The book is Why Would Anyone Go to Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Find and Reclaim Church for Good.

■ In other book marketing news, Zondervan figured out a great way to tie-in your interest in Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Boundaries series, depending on your favorite social media.

■ Dey not bein’ idle, man: Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky announced recently that they are launching their 10th campus.

■ Conspiracy theories? Connections between Coronavirus and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the implementation of 5G technology.

■ Next time you’re driving around while skipping church on a Sunday morning, slow down as you pass different churches and count the cars.

■ Newsy-political links we don’t here: The Atlantic looks at the confirmation bias of Wayne Grudem.

It is rather stunning to me that a person who has written a major textbook on Christian ethics can’t distinguish between a lawful investigation by American law-enforcement authorities or Congress and a president pressuring a foreign government, over which he has tremendous power, to announce an investigation into his political opponent—especially when the president’s team makes clear to that foreign government what the outcome of the request is supposed to be.

Title: “There is no Christian Case for Trump.

■ It’s personal: Over the years I’ve posted a variety of music links, but last year I discovered this one which is in a class all by itself. So yes, I’m repeating it. This is an arrangement of Psalm 104 from Psalm Project Africa. (Love how they pass the lyrics back and forth.)

■ New Music – Zauntee – Center Stage (Let love take center stage) – lyric video.

■ Hot Music – We the Kingdom – Holy Water – lyric video. 

■ New Music – Isla Vista Worship – Opened Up the Heavens.

■ Finally, just when I thought the satire writers had exhausted every possible premise, the Vatican Boy Choir defected to Japan

See you back in two weeks.


Last week’s top links:

  1. Worship leader accused of playing well-known song.
  2. First, Willow founder Hybels; now, Hybels mentor Dr. Bilezikian
  3. American Pie parody ode to Facebook
  4. Audrey Assad new song
  5. Movie trailer: The Road to Edmond
  6. Responses to Philip Yancey from NYT article
  7. Priest: Kobe Bryant attended Mass on the day of his death

February 4, 2020

Mass Appeal

guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

I am a Protestant. I grew up in Evangelical circles, went to a Pentecostal church in high school, worked at an interdenominational summer camp, and attended a Reformed university where I sang some Anglican evensongs; then I went to an Anglican church for a while after graduating. There are bits and bursts of Baptist mixed in there and I currently go to an Anabaptist home church during the week.

In each of these churches, I found things I liked and didn’t like. I prefer to focus on the things I like because it’s more enjoyable and more useful. This was my attitude when I took my first tentative steps into the Roman Catholic church choir that I have been singing with for two years.

This past Christmas my father asked me if there were any aspects of the Roman service which I would commend to fellow Protestants. I figured I’d give my answer in the more organized form of a blog post. I do also have my criticisms, and there are Catholic things outside the Mass that I also appreciate, and furthermore there are other traditions and denominations which may capitalize on these traits – But these are what I personally experienced first or best while sitting in a Catholic pew.

1. Textual History (Or “There were Christians between Paul and Luther?”)

The churches I grew up in derived most of their prayers and lyrics either from adapted Bible passages, or else they were entirely the writer’s own words. One time in the Pentecostal church we recited the Apostles’ Creed, but most of what we said or sang was new and original.

The Catholic services have introduced me to texts and lyrics which are an unappreciated treasure trove of inspirations. I never knew growing up that All Creatures Of Our God And King had a grandparent in Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, nor did I know that O Come O Come Emmanuel was adapted from the O Antiphons. Ave Verum, O Magnum Mysterium, and Pange Lingua (both of them) are all quite deserving of further attention and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence has become a favourite of mine.

Some texts may be doctrinally improper for a Protestant service but it’s at least worth appreciating that Jesus-loving people in our shared spiritual history have valued the Ave Maria or Adam Lay Ybounden. Lyrics and prayers that are complete innovations often feel egocentric, intellectually stale, and full of vague sentiment. Not always, of course. I rather like Oceans. But if we are striving to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths then this should be reflected in our art and good artists study the history of their craft. Richer lyrics will be more transformative and engaging than shallow ones.

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David Wesley is a great musician who deserves nothing but praise, but to illustrate my point here’s his Evolution of Worship Music which gives less than 60 seconds to 1500 years of church music. It’s not his fault, it’s just our worship climate. On a hopeful note, Be Thou My Vision is a great example of a rich old text enduring.

2. Dialogue (Or “Can I do something?”)

We all know that when the preacher says “In closing” or “My final point” we’re about 15 minutes away from the end of the sermon. And I can’t be the only one who has thought “Is this the 4th song in the set or the 5th? Haven’t we done this verse already? Can I sit down now?”

Ecce_Agnus_Dei

A missal I was reading once described the structure of the Mass as a sort of dialogue. What happens on the platform represents the work of God and what happens in the pews is the work of His people, and the two respond to one another. We sing praises to God and He, by the priest, gives us His blessing. We speak to Him by our prayers and songs and He speaks to us by the reading of His word. We give gifts to God in the offering and He gifts us with His own body and blood in the Eucharist.

And speaking of the offering, our choir director has started calling the offertory music “The Musical Offering.” I like that. It’s like the music itself is a gift to God and not just background music while you fish out your loose change.

Add to this structure the lay-roles of eucharistic ministers, altar servers, lectors, cantors, etc., and you get a service where A) You get to do something, and B) Your actions have a more defined purpose. Some people can sit passively through a 90+ minute service. I cannot. I like having a role to play.

3. Solemnity (Or “Can we all just calm down?”)

I have occasionally heard it implied or stated that the summit of Christian spirituality is being passionate and excited about Jesus. I love seeing charismatic churches thriving, but I personally am in more need of a God who can calm me down.

The structure and routine of a liturgical service lets a person put aside their personal feelings and circumstances to participate in something bigger than themselves. Many Protestant churches have the ideal of ‘laying everything at the feet of Jesus’ but ritual and routine make that ideal practicable. It’s a lot like acting in a play and reciting the lines of your character. It lets you experience and participate in something bigger than, and outside of, yourself. That often leaves me with my personal struggles seeming smaller afterwards.

Some Protestants worry that doing the same thing every week becomes mindless and robotic, and that is a possible danger. However, the other possibility is that the consistency of the service starts to reflect and represent God’s eternality and dependability, even as we encounter him in our many various changeable moods. And similarly, I think we find that one prayer or song can have many different nuances that emerge as we encounter them in different states.

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In all three of these areas, my intent is not to throw shade at protestant services or to elevate the Mass as the ideal service. I do find it refreshing to go to a more familiar kind of service after being at the Catholic church for a stretch. Nevertheless, I’ve gained quite a bit from my experience in the Mass so far and I would love to share what I’ve learned.

I could say more but I’ll have to end it there because, as I write this, it’s time to go to choir practice.


Aaron is an English and Theatre graduate of Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas.

February 1, 2020

Image Archives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:12 am

Some of the best from the February Wednesday Link Lists 2013-2016.

Update: Apparently WordPress doesn’t import the links when you use media file images, but I’ll be happy to try to source these if you leave a comment. Some of them I tried and the page no longer exists.






Morality in the 21st Century




See the “warning” section for a problem the First Century Church never had: ““This service contains flashing lights which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy.”




January 29, 2020

Wednesday Connect

From Theologygrams by Rich Wyld. There are two books available in the series.


Learn more about this book in today’s first link. Subtitle: How the Bible’s Problems Speak to Its Divine Authority.


A somewhat music-focused WedCon this week, along with the usual news and opinion pieces I truly hope you haven’t seen elsewhere, plus a few I know you have. I’ve brought back the New Music feature this week with five good selections and there are also that many music-related links.

■ I watched all 96 minutes: A week ago today, Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy took questions from their church family concerning Greg’s new book, Inspired Imperfection. Before you can view this, you need to a little about the book’s premise. It’s a fresh look at the Bible which bypasses words like inerrant and infallible to arrive at the same place Andy Stanley did: Equipping the kids we sent off to college or university to withstand attacks on the reliability of God’s word. (In one sentence: Don’t sweat the alleged contradictions; embrace them!) However, unlike Stanley, he takes a whole different route to get there. If you haven’t heard about the book, watch the introductory sermon first, and then, dive deep into this Q&A.

■ On the morning of his death, several sources confirm Kobe Bryant went to church. “He attended the 7am mass prior to going to the Orange County John Wayne Airport… I imagine he went straight to the airport, because the mass was 7-8 am. I’m told generally 7 am was his Mass… He was very discreet… He would come in and stay at the back, and his family too, and then he would usually leave a little earlier prior to the very end of the service. He was very much loved at the church, and he was very devout, very dedicated to his faith.”

■ Christianity Today offers a full exposition on the subject of tax exemption for American churches.

■ In the Willow Creek culture, he’s known simply as “Dr. B.” He was a mentor to Bill Hybels and the café off the church lobby is named after him. Now Gilbert Bilezikian is being named as part of the story of sexual inappropriateness at the church.

■ The Bible returns to Bolivia:

Hoisting a large leather Bible above her head, Bolivia’s new interim president delivered an emphatic message hours after Evo Morales fled under pressure, the end of a nearly 14-year presidency that celebrated the country’s indigenous religious beliefs like never before.

“The Bible has returned to the palace,” bellowed Jeanine Añez as she walked amid a horde of allies and news media cameras into the presidential palace where Morales had jettisoned the Bible from official government ceremonies and replaced it with acts honoring the Andean earth deity called the Pachamama.

What you see, as in many places in Central and South America, is a blending of two religions.

■ Podcast of the Week: Why was there a model of the Tower of Babel inside the church lobby? …Power isn’t inherently bad, but how should pastors relate to it, both inside and outside the church? Julie Roys talks to author Kyle Strobel. Kyle is the son of Lee, who you may know, and co-author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of The Lamb—Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It. Sample: “I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve met that have never bothered asking a future hire if they pray and what their prayer life is like. It just never came up.”

Short Essay of the Week: Evangelism may be sharing a gospel presentation and seeing immediate results. Or it may be being a link (what I’ve called elsewhere, ‘the chain of grace’) in introducing someone to the person who takes it to the next level. “A person’s coming to Christ is like a chain with many links.” 

■ In the news: “A South Dakota legislative committee approved a bill this week that would penalize medical professionals who prescribe hormone treatments or perform sex change surgeries for gender dysphoric children under age 16. Supporters of the measure argue the listed interventions are not healthcare but rather criminal acts against children too young to understand the long-term, irreversible effects.”

■ Fringe Christian movies:

  • Mentioned this one a month ago, but there’s been another promotional push for The Road to Edmond.
  • And even though it’s now supposedly released, we still don’t have a proper trailer for Faith Based (just the teaser already featured here.)

Two large-scale arenas have dropped Franklin Graham’s UK tour for reasons I’m sure you can imagine. Okay, we’ll spell it out: “It’s hard for many American Christians to get their heads around how much most people in Britain loathe Trump, and how that revulsion is also felt by many godly British believers…”

Essay of the Week: Philip Yancey was this year’s pick by Nicholas Kristof for his annual Christmas column on the Christian faith. The article received 830 comments. Yancey reflects (and includes screen shots) on some of those and explores their opinions, most of which providing consensus that we’re dealing with the nature of doubt

■ You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone: For many, the top religion news story of 2019 was the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The New York Times reported that the cathedral came within twenty minutes of being lost. Notre Dame was saved only because a team of firefighters volunteered to carry fire hoses up the spiral staircases of the burning bell towers after another team had refused because of the danger…

What can we do when everything is on fire? Perhaps we can recognize that not all structures of belief are the same. Some deserve to be condemned, some need to be deconstructed, some are not worth saving. But other structures of belief are worth risking everything in order to try to save them.

■ “The Drop Box” wasn’t just the name of a movie, it was a concept that was adopted at the Seymour Fire Department in Indiana. Last week it was used for the first time, 224 days later, and a child’s life was saved.

■ New Music: A new song about grief and healing. Audrey Assad – Shiloh.
And now as your tears flow
Let them be cleansing
Washing your heart so
You can be mending

■ New Music: The Reckless Love guy returns! Cory Asbury – The Father’s House
Lay your burdens down
Here in the father’s house
Check your shame at the door
‘Cause it ain’t welcome any more
You’re in the Father’s house.

■ Not New Music: This video clip is dated 2017, and yet, this is currently the #1 song on my local Christian radio station, Life 100.3. Equippers Revolution – Better With You.
And I know
Life will only get better with You
And my soul
Makes its stand to keep praising You

■ New Music (Canada): “In 2018 Jeremy Benjamin and family set out on a year long tour of Canada raising money to reduce local and global poverty through music. For the next year Jeremy performed over 150 solo concerts in churches and schools across Canada... The tour raised over $500,000 for charities and Jeremy ended up recording over 20,000 voices on the powerful worship song that closes his [new] album, Wonderlove, …released in October 4th on True North Records.” (The same label which brought us Bruce Cockburn.) Jeremy Benjamin – Wonderlove.

■ Important Music: The singer writes, “This song is a lament. It’s a loving rebuke. It’s a plea for the 81%, to come home to the way of Jesus.” Daniel Deitrich – Hymn for the 81%.

■ Catholic Corner: When I’m sixty-four. Listening to The Beatles, the writer realizes that, “Jesus is literally bombarding us with His teachings at every turn, if we will only seek to encipher them.

■ Worship peeps: If you’re not already doing so, share your setlists using the #SundaySetlist hastag on Twitter

■ Who’da thunk it? One of the five Grammy awards in the Christian categories went to a pairing of the band King and Country and Dolly Parton. (King and Country won two of the five; Kirk Franklin also took home two, and the fifth one went to Gloria Gaynor for an album and video she did for Gaither Gospel Group. Yawn.) 

Breaking — A modern worship musician has been accused of playing a song the congregation already knew. (This should have been in The Bee.)

■ Another American Anomaly: There should never have been exemption in the first place allowing churches, charities, etc., not to have to file Form 990, not to practice full transparency. I like this article by Julie Roys about RZIM, BGEA and FOTF, but it accepts that the loophole exists, which is in my view the main problem.

■ They hired him to guard their Egyptian church. Then he shot and killed two of its members.

■ Finland says that Christianity is not monotheistic. With new curriculum from the country’s Ministry of Education, “The new lesson plan states Christianity is polytheism covered with a thin veneer of Judaism… A snap poll of Jews and Muslims show 93% agree Christianity may be a lot of things, but it isn’t monotheism.”

■ Sadly, our Tweet of the Week. Watch for conservative women skiers to get frostbite this winter. 

Pure Whimsy: If you’ve got the tune American Pie fairly fixed in your mind, you’ll enjoy these parody lyrics we missed back in August: Facebook Pie by Keith Edwin Schooley.

■ Finally, the quote heard everywhere this week: “…We command all Satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now. We declare that anything that’s been conceived in Satanic wombs that it will miscarry, that it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction; any plan of harm…” – Paula White, spiritual advisor to the President.


The Bee, of course. Click here to read.


Pregnancy books for couples abound, but You Got This, Dad is just for guys. With self-deprecating honesty, plenty of humor, and amusing asides from his lovely wife, Elaina, Aaron steers soon-to-be dads through the complex events and emotions surrounding pregnancy. Releasing February from Harvest House Publishing.


Top clicks from last week’s Wednesday Connect:

  1. The Rainbow Cake Girl
  2. Highest Paid Ministry Executives
  3. Matthew Pierce: Beth Moore Baseball Cheating
  4. Michael Frost: Australia Fires – Losing Your Country
  5. Canada: Not a Christian Country Anymore
  6. Scot McKnight Moves Jesus Creed Blog to CT
  7. Undoing Trans Surgery
  8. Andy Stanley TV Show

Correction: The Missing Link

■ Two weeks ago subscribers to this blog received a version of Wednesday Connect containing a reference to Christ and Pop Culture’s Top 25 of 2019 for which the link did not appear. If you were interested in reading it, click this link.

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