Thinking Out Loud

March 2, 2015

Martha’s Busyness vs. Mary’s Devotion

Today’s post appears courtesy of Christianity 201

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most of you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that — I hope groups don’t get named like that today — it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. (Select part 5.) We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.  Do the tour!

February 12, 2015

The Sin of Embellishment

Filed under: Church, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 am

Brian Williams NBC Nightly NewsNightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.

He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.

Some say it’s the end of his career.

For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.

But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?

By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.

Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.

Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.

It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.

We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.

So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’

February 10, 2015

A Great Reason for Becoming a Church Member

Filed under: Church, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Short StoriesPastor Henders shifted on his chair several times. It had only been two years, but he really needed to ask the church board to consider a replacement office chair. The one he had was less than ideal, especially after a full day of office appointments. Thankfully there was just one left to go. His secretary administrative assistant said that he was on time for the Allerbys, a couple that had been attending for about a year, and then announced she was leaving for the day.

Mark and Diane Allerby had said they were interested in church membership. This appointment would be quick, especially since the Pastor had found a way to fast-track the process. After some customary small talk with both of them, the balance of the first part of the conversation was mostly between Mark and the pastor, with Diane joining in later.

PH: You’re already getting this in a letter, probably arriving on Monday, but I wanted to thank you for paying for the classroom set of Bibles for the Grade Six class. You were quite generous.

MA: We’re glad to help.

PH: We got an even better deal and were able to purchase more than we expected with the money, so we bought some early reader Bible story books the Grade One class has been asking for.

MA: Glad it all worked out.

PH: So as you know, membership requires you to take the newcomers’ class, but we just started one two weeks ago, and once we start, we don’t add people to that group. So, although you didn’t come here directly from Maple Grove Church, I called their pastor last week and he confirmed that you were members there for ten years, so I think we can call this a transfer even though there’s the three years in-between; but first I needed this office appointment that we would have done either way.

MA: Did the pastor at Maple Grove say anything about us? [Shifts awkwardly] I mean, did he say to say ‘Hi’ or anything?

PH: Well, he’s only been there for four months. So he just went through the records and confirmed the duration of your membership. He said he thought the secretary, er, administrative assistant might know you, but she was off for the week.

MA: That would be Thelma. She’s been there a billion years now.

PH: I’m not sure exaggeration is scriptural, Mark.  Anyway, the main thing we always ask in these interviews is, ‘Why do you want to enter into membership.’  Everyone has their own reasons; at one point you had to be a member to sing in the choir, but nowadays nobody knows what a church choir is. Of course you need it to teach Sunday School or teach in the midweek programs, but not to volunteer for a non-teaching role.

MA: Well actually…we’re interested in sort of getting involved in the issues.

PH: I’m sorry, issues?

MA: Well, yes. We want to be able to be more involved in various issues and concerns that arise in the life of a church and be able to speak to those issues with an involvement that is best expressed by being actual members and not just attenders.

PH. That’s encouraging. Are you thinking you’d like to put your name forward to be on the board? I mean, usually people are here two years, but if you join by transfer…

MA: Well, not exactly. We just want to be able to respond to things in a way that only church members can.

PH: I’m not sure I’m getting this.

MA: Well, for example, if the church was heading in what we were considering an unhealthy direction on a specific issue, we could then pull our membership.

PH: [blank stare]

MA: But we can’t do that if we’re not members.

[at this point, Diane clears her throat to speak]

DA: Basically, Pastor Henders, right now, we have no leverage.

PH: Uh…

MA: Membership gives us the voice we don’t have.

PH: So basically, you want to join the church because it gives you the option of quitting the church?

MA: Yes, that would sum it up, I think.

PH: We do have membership votes on anything that is considered controversial, you know. You can vote for, you can vote against, or you can abstain. It’s not necessary to threaten to withdraw from membership if there’s something you disagree with.

DA: [mysteriously] But it’s far more dramatic.

MA: What my wife means is that it has more impact than if we were just attenders.

PH: But attenders don’t vote at those meetings at all.

MA: No, I guess they wouldn’t.

PH: Is this what happened at Maple Grove?

DA: [in a Mississippi Southern Belle voice] Well now, isn’t that just a lucky guess?

PH: And the church you just came from?

MA: No, we couldn’t get membership there, so all we could do there is threaten to leave. And we did.

DA: And then we did.

PH: But then, why not just do that here? If there’s something you don’t like you can simply threaten to leave.

DA: And then we would.

MA: But it would never show on any records. This way, we’re listed in the official church register as members one year, and the next year–

DA: [in a Kindergarten, sing-song voice] –Now you see us, now you don’t.

PH: Poof! [throwing his hands up in the air]

[Everyone laughs, except the pastor is clearly only pretending to laugh.]

PH: Okay [filling in form while shifting uncomfortably on chair] …’Reason for seeking membership’ …Joining… in order… to be able… to quit… being a member.

DA: It doesn’t get more committed than that.

PH: This form needs to be approved before we can include you our next membership Sunday. Right now I’m not sure–

MA: What about the Grade Four class? Someone said they needed a new classroom set of Bibles as well.

PH: Well we don’t expect one single family to pay for everything.

MA: Well see, there’s a policy right there we could take exception to. We could say, ‘Unless they allow people to throw their money around, we’re going to pull our membership.’

PH: [firmly] You’re. Not. Members. Yet.

MA: That’s just the point.

DA: Yeah, now you’re getting it.

To be continued, unless of course the Allerbys have some objection…

February 7, 2015

Weekend Link List

gospel-reading

Our theme for our opening and closing graphics today is literacy. I really like the fact that the creator of this graphic realizes that kids are going to encounter all types of literature and that each potentially contains elements of truth and/or elements of deception. Does knowing the Bible well give kids an edge when it comes to discernment? I think it definitely can. (Click the image for source.)

Here are the weekend stories appearing at PARSE.

  • Lessons from the Altar Girls Controversy – David Murrow would be well-versed on the broader topic, so he picked up on this story right away. “Girls were excited to begin serving at the altar back in the ‘90s. But once girls became the majority (and performed so well) boys began losing interest. So more girls stepped forward. Eventually altar service became a female-dominated activity. At this point no self-respecting boy wanted to have anything to do with the altar because it was seen as something that girls did… Star of the Sea [parish] also noted that girls generally did a better job than boys – which further discouraged boys from serving. Boys are intensely competitive. Once a male realizes he’s no good at something (or a girl is better than he is) he often feels like quitting.”
  • On Church Being Fun – This is an excerpt from John Piper at a recent conference. “I think one of the reasons so many worship services in America are so playful and amusing and entertaining and casual and flippant and jokey and trifling and downright silly is that there is so little sense that anything ominous is really at stake in this service. This service is for secure believers to have fun and for unbelievers to see them have fun; so they will know Christianity is fun. And “fun” has become the most common word among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. It’s very telling. . . .” There’s also a link to the full transcript and video, but also, at the same blog there’s this discussion on ‘Jovial Calvinism.’
  • Church Culture: The Welcome Card – “In other cultures (often far from our own), communicating through a card would be an affront, impersonal if not rude. Newcomers are welcomed only through a gracious and lively conversation, one that elicits all the information the welcome card seeks: name of spouse, names and ages of children, whether the visitor is new to the area, and so forth… And then there is the box next to ‘Would like to know more about being a Christian.’ You just don’t say that to the stranger sitting next to you in the pew, not in this culture. But on this welcome card, you can hint at your sense of emptiness, your guilt or shame, your fear of death — and your desperate hope that there is an answer.”
  • Things We’re Not Supposed to Think or Say – “We need to dialogue about common doubts evangelicals often feel they’re not allowed to express.” Sample: “Both Jesus and Paul held progressive views about women. In the cultures of Jesus and Paul, men were not even supposed to speak to a woman in public. The fact that Jesus included women among his followers was nothing less than scandalous. While scholars disagree on Paul’s view of women overall, Paul clearly credits women as leaders within the church…”
  • That TV Commercial Festival They Kept Interrupting to Show Football Scenes – “Of course, the art of advertising is to make the audience associate something positive with their product. It doesn’t matter if you put a sexy woman next to a big sandwich or a powerful looking guy in the driver’s seat of a car. You want the audience to make subliminal associations between the product and what people really want… Unfortunately, there isn’t much about our culture that makes it easy for us to have the things that really matter to us… People are the only things in the world that can give other people what they deeply, truly want. We cannot substitute a product for a person.”
  • Christians, Groundhogs and Superstitions – “We also need to remember that Christians are not immune to superstitions either. Often, without even meaning to, we behave in a superstitious way. For example, if $6.66 pops up on a cash register while buying groceries, some Christians freak out and ask to pay another price. Christians might cross their fingers (to make a cross), an old Christian superstition, for good luck and protection. Or a bride might not want her groom to see her before the wedding so she doesn’t bring bad luck into the marriage.”
  • Conversations After Church - Read a synopsis and watch a 2-minute preview of a forthcoming documentary: “Six ordinary individuals, committed to the church and seeking to serve God, encounter a dark night of the soul moving them beyond organized religion through the door of a personal faith crisis. What started out as a mounting tension between personal experience and the old forms of faith and community forces each individual to radically reexamine their worldview and change their lives to move beyond the fragmentation.”
  • Secret Church Simulcast – The next installment of David Platt’s Secret Church multi-site live events happens near the end of April. This one deals with the topic of the church and culture. “How does a Christian respond to the rapid rise of so-called same-sex marriage and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality? How does a Christian live in a world of sex slavery and rampant pornography, a world where babies are aborted and widows are abandoned? How does a Christian think in a culture of pervasive racial prejudice and limited religious liberty? What does a Christian do in a church that exalts prosperity amidst a world of extreme poverty?” On the technical side, all your church needs to host this is a reliable, high-speed internet connection. On the commitment side, you need people willing to stay up until midnight! Costs vary by church size.
  • The Eclectic Jewish Community in Wal-Mart’s Hometown – “‘The fascination in the Bible Belt with who we are and what we believe is amazing,” said [Rabbi} Lennick, who developed a ‘Taste of Judaism’ course to address the locals’ desire for knowledge. ‘I’m constantly invited to teach church classes. I look at this as an opportunity to break down stereotypes and build alliances.’ Interfaith families, and even non-Jews, often attend services at Etz Chaim. Some come to expand their understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, while others are seeking new answers. In the latter category is one family of 10 — with kids ranging in age from 9 to 24 — who came to Lennick as devoted Baptists. After asking a lot of questions, they have become regulars at Etz Chaim and are now pursuing ‘becoming Jews by choice,’ as the rabbi put it.” Read about the strange, interfaith, syncretistic world of religion in Bentonville.
  • From The Archives – (By internet standards, February three years ago constitutes ‘archives.’)  “Since some are saying that we are entering a period of heightened tension between clergy and laity in the American church, it might be helpful to recognize some areas in which we might diligently work in our understanding of each other...Pastor and people need to work hard at communicating at a heart level to get each other…”
  • Can’t Get Enough of Me? - Check out my other blog project, which is growing at a time that many blogs are waning. Daily devotions and Bible study since April, 2010:  Christianity 201

It would probably take shelving on this scale to hold all the books in my personal library…what seems like a blessing could be a problem if we decide to move.

My Library

January 23, 2015

Seeing a Counselor No Longer Considered a Sign of Weakness

Therapy for Healthy People

I never quote here from the NIrV, the simplified (children’s) version of the NIV, but somehow it seemed appropriate:

  1. Matthew 9:12
    Jesus heard that. So he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.
  2. Mark 2:17
    Jesus heard that. So he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to follow me.”
  3. Luke 5:31
    Jesus answered them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.

I grew up in a culture where only people who had mental or emotional problems sought professional counseling. Anyone in my elementary or high school who admitted to having an appointment with a psychologist would be treated like a leper, and as I got older, there was a certain stigma that remained attached to having a need for a mental health professional.

Recently, however, I’ve been listening to sermons and podcasts and reading books by respected Christian authors who freely admit regular — usually weekly — visits with their counselor, including pastors of some of the very largest American churches.

The stigma of the past just isn’t there now.

I’m not sure if this has more to do with the level of detachment we feel in modern society and therefore simply need someone to talk to, or if it has more to do with the possibility we’re more messed up than previous generations.  Or perhaps because we now speak in terms of having a life coach the process is just a little bit less mysterious.

Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde looked into this two years ago at Q blog. Rather than take the easy way out and advocate for therapy as a preventative strategy, they suggested that we’re all messed up one way or another.

Good therapy is challenging and costly, because it exposes both the depths of your woundedness and the extent of your sinful self-sabotage…

When we go to therapy, we admit—at some level—that we don’t have life figured out, that blind spots erode our sense of vision for ourselves and others, that our motives are mixed. To say, “I’m in therapy” takes courage, because we’re admitting we don’t have it all together. And that is a rare admission these days…

We may spend years avoiding our pain, avoiding our stories, avoiding our subtle forms of self-sabotage and relational sabotage. But when they catch up to us, therapy is one way God uses to awaken us…

In a subsequent article — now offline — LaLonde returned to the blog with some practical steps for people to take in selecting a counselor. He admitted that some offer quick fixes, while with others, it takes a few weeks to feel comfortable sharing your inner self with that person.

But probably the best thing articles like this accomplish is to remove the longstanding association between counseling therapy and more severe mental illness.

So then what do we do with our opening? Is it only the sick that need a doctor? Well, either Jesus was wrong, or perhaps we’re all just a little more messed up than we think. After all, in the context of the statement — repeated in all three synoptic gospels — Jesus is Himself the doctor and for all the various types of emotional, social, mental and spiritual wholeness we need; more than anything else, we needed a Savior.

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

January 18, 2015

Weekend Link List

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

Ziggy - zi_sun_c150111.tif

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

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

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

January 14, 2015

Wednesday Link List

God Told Me T-shirt

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

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

 

Well Done

 

 

January 11, 2015

On The Sunday Lunch Menu: Roast Preacher

roast-preacherOne of our pastor experiences was really strange. One never knew truly what the guy was thinking, which means the drive home from the morning service was always filled with differing opinions as we tried to dissect the various points. One time, he placed a coffee maker on the podium suggesting, “God is the water;” and concluding with, “We are the beans.” This got us singing the chorus from “We Are The World” all the way home, substituting “beans” for “world.”

On the other hand, we attended another church where the pastor clearly had a double portion of the gift of preaching. However, never once did we discuss anything he said in the car heading home. He had said it all. Perfectly. With nothing to add.

In hindsight, I’m not sure which is to be preferred. I actually like discussing the sermon in the car on the way home, especially when there is a point of doctrine that was controversial, or the use of an analogy — such as the coffee maker one — that is a bit rough around the edges. I often think what I might have done with the same passage, or how a particular point might have made more clearly. I am not ashamed of this at all, in fact I wish I had kept a journal or notebook solely for the purpose of recording when particular sermons might have served as a springboard to another idea based on the same text.

On the other hand though, on many of those drives home, there were a couple of sets of little ears in the back seat. Little ears don’t understand the difference between a critique and a criticism. The difference between unhelpful criticism and constructive criticism. The difference between not liking what someone said versus not liking them as a person. So one has to be careful.

The problem arises when adults are equally lacking in understanding the distinction. If you are a pastor, know that I can violently disagree with something you said, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like you and it doesn’t mean I won’t love everything you say the following week. Unfortunately, people tend to take things far too personally. (It was once said of me, in reference to a particular pastor, “He can’t stand that guy.” Seriously. That was their takeaway. Simply wasn’t true.)

Furthermore, I know some pastors who would be thrilled to think that people were discussing their sermons in the car on the way home, or over dinner. Better that than forgetting them the minute they leave the building. Better heated engagement of the topic or text than apathy.

But maybe not so much in the actual church building, in earshot of others. Jon Acuff makes that quite clear in a 2009 Stuff Christians Like post. In keeping with the spirit of “Roast Preacher,” I wouldn’t necessarily give this particular post a “10” or even a “9,” but the set up was positively brilliant:

Two weeks ago at church, on my way to pick up my kids after service, the guy behind me said, “It was entertaining I guess, but that didn’t feel like church at all.”

I immediately turned around and was about to hit him with my copy of the English Standard Version of the Bible, which I’ve been told leaves bruises that are 14% closer to the original intent of the Hebrew, but he threw up the gang sign for “First Time Visitor.” I backed off instantly. If there’s one group of people you can’t strike with a Bible at church, it is first time visitors. Pastors really frown on that.

So instead, I just glared at him with a look that said, “You enjoy that first time visitor status, because next week, it’s gone. Soon you’ll just be a second time visitor and there’s not a gift basket that comes with that.” Then I backed away slowly, keeping my eyes on him.

It didn’t happen exactly that way, but I did hear someone complaining and it made me sad. …

 

January 7, 2015

Wednesday Link List

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

Cathedral Repurposed II


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


Church Gro

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


Here’s what we posted at PARSE today:

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

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

Sketchy Church

 

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.