Thinking Out Loud

June 27, 2020

When You Try to Make a Difference at the Local Church Level

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:08 am

Not only would more guys make the group more dynamic, but we might get better toast.

I know my spiritual gift: I have the gift of networking. I love to connect people with books, DVDs, organizations, teachers and other people.

Today’s the last Saturday in the month. Normally, I’d be attending a Men’s Breakfast thing at the church we attended up to mid-2018. The church where my wife now serves on staff (which is where I’ve been going most often) doesn’t have anything similar for its small cohort of men so I’ve been encouraging the pastor of the latter to formalize a relationship with the former, or at the very least simply announce the thing. The leader of the group is not only open to guys from the other church attending, he’s been pretty well expecting they would, with my enthusiastic promotion. I’ve invited a number individually myself.

The problem is, I’ve failed. No guy from Church ‘B’ has ever attended this event at Church ‘A’ and it bothers me immensely that in this teeny, tiny area, I’ve failed to make a difference.

It’s not the first time.

I often find myself waving the flag for some event only to find myself alone in passion for that particular activity. What’s the saying? ‘A leader who has no one following is simply a person going for a walk in the park.’ (Or something like that.)

So I’ve found myself able to blog and tweet over the past ten-plus years and make those aforementioned networking connections eagerly received by people in England and Australia and South Africa, but I can’t get a dozen guys in my own hometown to show up at 8:30 on a Saturday morning for some fellowship, scrambled eggs with toast, and a 15-minute devotional.

I think they would benefit, and the existing members of the group would benefit by connecting with more people.

If I could just make it happen.

May 6, 2020

Twelve Disciples Sorted by Categories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

March 11, 2020

Wednesday Connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready for a string of COVID-19 stories…

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

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

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

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

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

■ Three items this week from The Christian Institute:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



March 10, 2020

Churches Respond to Coronavirus

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

With things moving quickly, I said to my wife this morning that who is to say, looking at it from a Tuesday perspective, that we will have a service this weekend?

The following (and today’s images) are all from a Twitter news sub-feed indicating what churches are doing, accessed at 9:00 AM EST today:

  • ‘No hugs, no handshakes’ seems to be the #1 rule in these times
  • Prevalence of hand sanitizer stations, or in one church, people receiving a pump of sanitizer from the priest before receiving communion
  • At many Catholic churches, the Holy Water has been temporarily removed
  • At other churches, no wine for Communion/Eucharist
  • At some, the priests are dispensing the wafers with a ladle
  • At Orthodox churches, parishioners are asked to honor the icons by bowing, not kissing them
  • Many churches are already streaming services online
  • People encouraged to stay at home if they’re not feeling 100%
  • Denominations and parachurch organizations are cancelling larger conferences and seminars
  • At a synagogue, the hamantaschen (triangular filled cookie; festival of Purim tie-in) are individually wrapped instead of being on a tray
  • Some LDS churches have purchased high-speed thermometers
  • Area around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca shut down for sterilization

While these address the more practical concern, there is also the issue of fear, worry, anxiety, etc., and the subsequent depression this situation can bring on. The ability of the capital ‘C’ Church to meet these needs will certainly be tested over the coming weeks. 

Addressing this climate of concern, while at the same time remaining transparent about urgency taking measures to not spread germs is a two-pronged challenge. 

Then there is the question if some of the things we do on a regular basis, such as the shaking of hands, the sharing of the cup at the Lord’s Table, etc., should be reexamined long after the current outbreak has passed.

March 4, 2020

Wednesday Connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


■ Tweet of the Month for February:


Top Clicks from last week’s Connect feed:

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

Click to see them all at this link.

February 28, 2020

The Thing Which Sets the North American Church Apart

Filed under: Christianity, Church, missions — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

On Monday, my wife Ruth shared here on the blog about the pastor and the church we connected with in Cuba. Overall, the trip had several factors which are all tied for first place in my reflections on the week:

  1. That we traveled by air to a foreign country with our adult sons. Admittedly, the flight was shorter than one to Denver or Sacramento, but considering the four of us now live in three different cities and that our cash position never allowed anything like this previously, it was a major accomplishment.
  2. The weather was absolutely perfect. 30­­°C each day.
  3. Our connection with the pastor and the church; the subject to which I want to return.

Really, many things were similar.

  • They begin with worship, we begin with worship.
  • They have a sermon, we have a sermon.
  • They take up an offering, we take up an offering.
  • They have announcements, we have announcements.
  • They sit in rows, we sit in rows.
  • They meet on Sunday morning, we meet on Sunday morning.

Sure, the tone of the service — the raw energy present — was quite different, and the singing was so loud and so passionate. And it’s true that when asked to bring greetings, I said I wanted to take the spirit of the service and put it in a box and take it home (something which apparently doesn’t translate well) because I was so pumped to be experiencing this, especially after never having had any direct foreign missions exposure to that point. (It was the one gap in my personal ministry history.)

But in the end the difference was huge, and it affects so many other things:

  • They walk to church, we arrive, for the most part, by automobile.

There was no parking lot. When we arrived by taxi, the driver tried to get closer to the church building, but was driving on a surface so uneven, I rather insisted that he stop.

I’m told that the woman who comes the farthest walks 2 km down a mountain to get to services and mid-week meetings, but then presumably must walk 2 km up the mountain.

I tried to consider the various impacts of this.

This is a community of about 40 believers which has far more context in which to interact during the week. In my church, there are people I don’t see except on Sundays. At a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I actually ran into three people representing two other churches, but the odds are fewer that I run into anyone from the church we’re presently attending. For them, it means they are living their lives — doing life together is the overworked phrase here — with each other, and in every aspect of life.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop people in the village from also attending events throughout the week, though we wondered if, in winter when sunset is earlier, a women’s prayer gathering that was scheduled for Thursday night was more likely to end by 7:00 PM instead of starting at 7:00 as it would here.

It also means the opportunities to “church hop” are fewer. The pastor’s father is also a pastor, and his church is just 4 km down the road. (I thought of proposing a ‘pulpit exchange’ as is done here at times, but not sure they would see any benefits.) It also means the two single girls in the church might be challenged in trying to find two single guys, although there are some yearly regional youth events to which they somehow travel.

It also means the pace of life is much slower. We run to the grocery store, realize we’ve forgotten something, and drive right back. In this type of rural, vehicle-less society, you would take more time to plan; more time to count the cost of the limited travel you are able to do.

It doesn’t mean they don’t know there’s a wider world out there. Until making the decision at the end of Grade Twelve — what Americans call senior year — to go into ministry instead of university, our Pastor host would still have learned much about the world in which Cuba is a small part. Maybe not so much about the benefits of capitalism; but still he did meet us twice at the resort, and the resorts are usually joint ventures between the state and more capitalist partners. In fact there is certain element of entrepreneurship in moving 4 km down the road from your father’s church and starting your own in a different village.

Even so, I thought of raising the subject of coronavirus, which was the primary topic on CNN back at the hotel, but realized the possibility of his people being aware of the potential pandemic might be rather small, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the bearer of that news. Their world is…well…their world.

I’m not a sociologist, even though I play one on television. Okay, let’s try that again. I’m not a sociologist though that was my major in university. It left me, at the very least, with a better knowledge of what I don’t know, and in this case, I know that the implications of a church without a parking lot run far deeper than I’ve listed here.

What I do know for sure, is that back home, the cars, vans, SUVs and pickups all made one thing possible: The megachurch. Most readers here drive past 6-10 other churches to get to their weekend service destination. Remove personal automotive transport from the equation, and the megachurch ceases to exist. Partially restrict travel to public transport — as in Europe — and you don’t see as many of the sprawling suburban church campuses located at the intersection of major freeways.

So they could look at our situation and marvel at the space taken up by the parking area and then put their analytical skills to work to see what it costs us to worship in these modern cathedrals. While we might love the children’s program facilities, the professional-sounding worship band, and the oratory of Bible teachers trained to communicate in large auditoriums; I’m not sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Back home, I enjoyed the service the following week; but partly because the church we’re attending is small and I know 85-90% of the people by name. But another part of me wondered what the little church in Cuba would be like if were attending for a second week.

 

 

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.

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