Thinking Out Loud

March 14, 2018

Wednesday Connect

■ We’re back with a new name and a slightly different format which I hope will evolve and improve over the next few weeks. Your comments and suggestions are always helpful. Welcome to Wednesday Connect #001.

► The Liabilities of Christian Celebrity. This short piece was one of the most frequently mentioned article in the past few days. “This is a fickle expression of faith, one that is based not in the Gospel, but in humans who have limitations and will change. Christian celebrity culture creates in and out groups based on the collective belief in faith leaders, as opposed a universal belief in the teachings of Christ.”

► Ravi Zacharias Update: The apologist will not face any sanctions from the organization which holds his ministry credentials, The Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination and said that “available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy.

► Question of the Week: “Here’s one way to test the teaching you’ve received and the lenses you’ve been given: were you taught that David’s sin with Bathsheba was primarily sexual? Or were you taught that his sin was the way he abused his power?” The writer goes on, “If you were taught to view David’s relationship with Bathsheba as a consensual, sexual liaison, I believe you’ve been taught to misread the story.”

Left Behind co-author Jerry Jenkins is signed up for a new series releasing this fall. “Dead Sea Rising features Nicole Berman leading an archeological dig in Jordan to search for the first concrete sign of the biblical patriarch Abraham. During the excavation, she discovers a 4,000-year-old complex that includes evidence of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.” (New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans is “Biblical Consultant.”)

► They weren’t trying to be provocative, but…this headline: Is Déjà Vu Prophetic or Psychic Paranormal Witchcraft? “Déjà vu is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, but one thing is certain: It is not a spiritual gift. This is not the gift of prophecy. It’s not the word of knowledge…[It] does not belong in a prophetic person’s spiritual vocabulary of God expressions. At best, it’s likely a similar memory that’s buried in your subconscious. At worst, it’s witchcraft.”

► Essay of the Week: She plunged herself into an investigation of ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching. “I followed my interest in the prosperity gospel like a storm chaser, finding any megachurch within driving distance of a family vacation… I was traveling the country interviewing this movement’s celebrities for my doctoral research… I wrote the first history of the prosperity gospel from its roots in the late 19th century to its modern mix of TV preachers..” Objectivity went out the window: “No matter how many times I rolled my eyes at the creed’s outrageous certainties, I craved them just the same.” Then life intervened and it was time for a reconsideration.

► Two Men, Two Different Paths: A look at the divide in thought which occurred between Billy Graham and Charles Templeton (with whom my father worked back in the day). 

► A Sure Cure for Low Blood Pressure: Take this 20-question Bible Doctrine and Trivia (to make it an even 20) and provided you agree with the shameless bias of its creators, you’ll get 100%. One comment: “I got an 85 but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong Biblically, just means I didn’t answer all questions according to the question-posers’ doctrine.” (Me, too!) And they don’t even give you the ‘right’ answers or tell you which ones you missed. (The “About” page quotes MacArthur. That should tell you enough.)

► Parenting: That fear and dread when you find out your child is getting a ride home from someone who is not the one you had been told would be driving.

► Karl Vaters, the patron saint of small churches guests on the UnSeminary Podcast with Rich Birch. Don’t have 35 minutes? There’s also an executive summary at the link.

► Testimony Time (1): Her husband left her and then he left God.  An inside look at the pain that resulted.

► Testimony Time (2): Convinced he had the wrong god, he quit the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and built a new spiritual foundation on what the Bible teaches. “It was important because this church, with all it’s beautiful buildings and all it’s property, in the message that sounded so similar to Christianity and terminology, it taught me and continues to teach others another Christ. A Christ that cannot save. It’s a different Jesus. It’s a Jesus that doesn’t have any existence whatsoever. It’s a Christ that cannot save…” (An interesting sidebar to this article was the discovery of QuitMormon.com.)

► Trouble in Domain-land? The American Bible Society controls the domain “.bible” which means deciding who gets to use it and who is doesn’t.

► One More Time!  If your church participated in the Global Hymn Sing two weeks ago, or even if it didn’t, here’s another listen to the Getty’s arrangement of Jesus Shall Reign.

► One More Time!  If your church does modern worship, you’re probably aware of the song Reckless Love which has become very popular in a short time. A few days ago, Israel Houghton offered a fresh arrangement of the song.

► A new genre of Christian Music:  They call it Christian Ambient Music. (There’s a part two to this as well.)

► Practical: 3 Steps in spotting spiritual pride; 3 steps in undoing spiritual pride.

► At the Movies: We looked briefly at the film A Wrinkle in Time here on the weekend, inasmuch as there are similarities in the way its being received by conservative Christians and that of the movie The Shack. I never got around to linking to a review however. This one, from the National Catholic Register covers it well.

► A longtime reader here who spent 30+ in marriage and family counseling recently posted this list of seven things implicit in being defined as an emotionally healthy person.

► Sadly, stories of sexual assault involving a church staff member and a teenager are all too common. What makes this one different is that charges were laid against a father and son, both working at a Baptist Church in Texas.

► Connect to More Connections: We had a “My, how you’ve grown!” moment recently when we checked the index to all the Patheos Evangelical bloggers. But don’t stop there, you’ll find an equally large number of Patheos Progressive Christian writers. (There’s more as well: Catholic and Eastern Orthodox blogs.)

► Finally, it’s that time of year again. Take a look at the contenders in the American Jesus Madness 2018 Bracket. Jen Hatmaker versus Lifeway Stores; Eugene Peterson’s backtracking versus The National Statement; and of course, Jerry Falwell Jr. versus Shane Claiborne. Many other interesting face-offs in the first round.

Spotted this week: Stephen Colbert holding “‘Doing her best’ Barbie” in a classic Godspell T-shirt

Spotted earlier this Year: The Biebs reading his Bible sans shirt.

And so it begins. This week was a transition between what was and what this column will become. Your feedback is always welcomed. Special thanks to Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard for three of this weeks suggested items. The graphic at the top is from the UK’s Dave Walker. Click to connect. Items below are from Sacred Sandwich and Post Secret.

 

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March 7, 2018

Wednesday Link List

LINK LIST 001 — This isn’t the whole thing, but it was decidedly shorter than what would follow. The name “Wednesday Link List” wasn’t applied consistently, but the first one appeared in January, 2010. Also, to save you asking, the superhero site still works.

There are rumors that after today, the lynx is being retired to another zoo.

This is it! We made it to #400! As you can see from our retrospective screenshots, the road to the first one was paved with many different titles, not all of which are represented here.

  • Only Lasted One Day: “The Country Music Association Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the CMA, appointed former Arkansas governor and former Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee on the board of its foundation; an entity dedicated to growing and supporting music education programs across the country. Huckabee was a great choice for the position because of his love for country music and his vital contributions to music education.” 24 Hours later, powerful influencers in the CMA who happen to be pro-LGBT forced him to step down.
  • ⛪ As George Michael put it, “Ya gotta have faith.” That’s certainly true if you want to fit inside the nominally Christian United States of America. However, “[T]here can be real problems when a nation circumscribes who belongs and who doesn’t by whether they are people of faith. That type of social duress can be culturally and personally unhealthy. In fact, according to a recent study in the journal, Society and Mental Health, individuals who consider leaving a faith, but do not, tend to experience more depression than those who decide to leave.” (Also, I think Jesus said something about hypocrites.)
  • The biggest Post-Parkland Jerk Award goes to a former Utah congressman who said the survivors of the school shooting there need a belief in Jesus Christ. Okay. Except that Parkland, Florida is a dominantly Jewish community. Plus Jason Chaffetz should know better: “Chaffetz, you’re thinking … boy, that name sounds … Yup. Chaffetz’s father was Jewish. The elder Chaffetz’s first wife was Kitty Dukakis, who later married Gov. Michael Dukakis. Chaffetz’s mother had been a Christian Scientist, but became a Mormon. In college, Chaffetz himself became a Mormon.” Which is followed by this: “Chaffetz’s screed reminds us that throughout Jewish history, some of the Jews’ worst enemies have come from the ranks of apostates.
  • Best Headline: Why You Can’t Have Your Porn and #MeToo. (Sample: “The printed pornography of twenty years ago… seems very mild in comparison to mainstream porn today. The pornography industry itself has been quite forthright in explaining the way that “extreme” porn has become mainstream. And there are, for example, a variety of directors and performers on record raising concerns about the physically and psychologically punishing nature of U.S.-produced pornography.”)
  • Coincidence? Anne Graham Lotz on the date of Billy Graham’s (i.e. her father’s) death. “Feb. 21, 2018, is the day Jews focus on the Scripture reading that deals with the death of Moses.” She says, “Moses was the great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage, slavery, got them to the edge of the promised land, and God took him to heaven… My father was also a great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage to sin, and gets us to the edge of heaven, the edge of the promised land, and God has called him home.” …
  • …And thousands are petitioning for a national holiday to honor Billy Graham as is done with Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • ⚔️ Podcast of the Week: Jesus tells his disciples, “[T]he one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.” A look at different interpretations of this passage with David Burnett on The Naked Bible podcast. 76 minutes.
  • 🎬 At the Movies: Mary Magdalene is releasing March 16th worldwide, but not in North America. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix who I knew was brother to the late River Phoenix, but IMDb.com filled this in: “His parents, from the continental United States, were [when he was born] serving as Children of God missionaries.” Why no release here? According to Wikipedia: “It was originally scheduled to be released in the United States and Canada on November 24, 2017.In August 2017, the release was pushed back to March 30, 2018. In January 2018, it was pulled from the schedule.” Deadline.com reveals that decision was made by Harvey Weinstein’s company partly for corporate reasons and possibly to accommodate the release of another film. Here’s the most recent trailer. (For Christian moviegoers, it clears the slate for I Can Only Imagine on Mar. 16.)…
  • …In other film news, Christian Daily reports “Evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson, Will Graham, is going to play his grandfather on the big screen in the sequel to Unbroken. The follow-up movie, which is titled Unbroken: Path to Redemption, will pick up from where war hero Louis Zamperini discovered God.” The report adds that “Apparently, viewers became disappointed that the first movie did not highlight the impact of Graham’s evangelism in Zamperini’s life.”
  • 📺 Scandal on the Small Screen: Viewers of Coronation Street have voiced their disgust at a scene showing the resident vicar [i.e. Anglican priest] taking heroin in church.The character, Billy Mayhew, has been battling an addiction to painkillers. However, he fell to new lows after his drug dealer brother Lee sold him heroin.The pair ‘shot up’ in church, and as they were slumped against the pews Lee said: ‘This must be what heaven feels like.‘” (And to think some North Americans were upset about Living Biblically.)
  • ✝️ Dialing for Doctrine: When Jesus come back will he walk the streets as he did the first time? Five well-known Christian leaders share their views.
  • Leadership Lessons: Presbyterian (PCUSA) churches in Rochester, New York combine together on various initiatives and share leadership in order to stay strong in the face of overall declining numbers and church closings. The resulting church network is called Riverside Neighbors
  • Translation Troubles: You say teaching, I say tradition. The same word, paradosis, gets treated differently in different passages
  • 🇨🇦 Canada Corner: The waiting game continues in the Trinity Western University Law School case before the Supreme Court.
  • Women’s Workshop: “Many of the women in question have been interpreted based on the terminology used to describe them in our English translations. Oftentimes, terms like ‘prostitute’ or ‘adulteress’ conjure contemporary images that fail to capture the circumstances of biblical times.”
  • 🚸 KidMin: One of Canada’s largest churches is developing an original children’s curriculum, and making it available to other churches for free.
  • 📡 Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) continues its worldwide expansion and recently added “TBN Mzansi, a new African Christian channel that is available on Africa’s latest and second largest satellite service called Kwesé TV on channel 810.” TBN Africa also offers The Hillsong Channel. (For African viewers interested in religious/faith-based channels, the service already offers all these.)
  • 🎹 New Music: This is one of many I’ve discovered on Fresh Life Radio, a church-operated radio station from Fresh Life, where Levi Lusko is pastor. The artist is Rachel Jane and the song is The Mountain.
  • 🎹 New-to-Me Music: This is from the church where Perry Noble was the pastor. NewSpring; the song Love Me Like That.
  • 📖 New Books: This isn’t my normal reading, but I’m tempted. “How could this have happened? How could this sixteen-year-old, who less than a week earlier had left home on a typical Friday morning for school, now be flirting with death by overdose?” On Pins and Needles by Rick Van Warner released a few days ago from Baker Books. 
  • 🦋 New Books: A great gift for anyone who ever watched Touched by an Angel; Roma Downey, who along with her husband gave us the The Bible Series A.D. on television, has released a book about a creature she sees as a reminder of God’s presence. The book is titled Box of Butterflies.
  • Parenting Place: Eric Metaxas interviews Kirk Cameron on the occasion of Cameron’s new film, Connect, “helping parents better communicate with their children about social media and its relation to anxiety, depression and suicide.
  • 🚘 The Price is Right: Five lucky (blessed?) people at Destiny Church in Columbia, Maryland left worship services with the keys to a new car. “It was part marketing ploy — but also theology, [Pastor Stephen] Chandler said. Randomly giving away cars to people who show up to worship demonstrates God’s unbelievable, no-strings-attached goodness…”
  • Because we’re not running any graphics this week, we’ll give you this.
  • Finally, finally, finally…We end with a Matthew Pierce, but not a current one like you think we’re going to do but this one about Christian School Mascots from 2015. Or from the same year, this Brief History of Legalism. (Actually just read his whole blog.)

In the words of Ford Prefect, so long and thanks for all the fish.

January 15, 2018

Another Reason the Kids Aren’t at Church

Looks like nearly half of the 15 kids in this class are on their way to a ‘perfect attendance’ award; leading some Children’s Ministry directors to suspect this image is more fantasy than reality in many of our churches.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Sunday School classrooms were adorned with attendance charts with stickers applied for each Sunday kids were present. Today, those charts would be rather spotty as church attendance has suffered greatly over the past 20 years.

Back then we also were graded on a weekly point system with points applied for:

  • being present
  • being on time
  • bringing your Bible
  • bringing some money for offering
  • knowing the memory verse
  • completing the lesson in the “quarterly” (often done in the car en route to church)1
  • staying for “big church” afterwards

The Christian Education (CE) curricula of those days weren’t perfect, perhaps; but over a 3-4 year cycle we were exposed to the major body of Christian literature. Today I’m grateful to be Biblically literate2 and especially for the verses committed to memory, something harder to accomplish as you get older.

So why aren’t the kids showing up more consistently these days? In past writing and discussion I’ve always isolated two reasons:

  • Sports: Sunday morning and midweek programs for kids and teens is taking a major hit because of scheduling of competitions and practices involving soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and for those of us in Canada, hockey.
  • Shift Work: Families with a single vehicle find it impossible3 to get to church if someone has to work a Sunday morning shift (or is coming off a midnight shift).

However, in a discussion last week with a CE specialist — today sometimes referred to as a KidMin specialist — I realized I was completely overlooking a significant factor.

  • Custody Arrangements: When spending the weekend with one parent, church is part of the package, but the other parent doesn’t attend, so on those weeks the kids don’t get to connect.

I asked this person how many children in her program would be affected by this, and she said, “20 percent; adding, “I have kids for whom I’ll put some extra weeks of material together for them to take home, knowing I may not see them for a few weeks.”

(Related: If you missed our 3-part series on divorce, guest-written by a youth ministry specialist, click this link.)

We don’t have room to get into this here, but statistically, if the male parent takes the kids, there is greater likelihood of the children continuing to attend church as adults.4

Either way, not only do the kids miss the benefits of the lessons presented, but they also miss the more consistent contact with their church friends, often the only Christian friends they have. By the end of my junior year in high school (Grade 11 for my Canadian readers5) my friends were largely church friends, not school or part-time-job friends. If weekend services are missed, but they get to a solid midweek program at the church, much is redeemed, but the same factors (shift work, custody, and especially, sports) play havoc with those as well.

Then there is the issue of blended families. One parent may wish to take his children or her kids to church on Sunday morning, but the other kids weren’t raised with it. Just as water seeks its lowest level, I think you know that this might easily end up with the church-raised kids wanting to opt out for whatever reason.6

With the divorce rate showing no sign of changing, this is going to continue to be a challenge facing the church at large.7 You can’t have teens leaving church who were rarely there to begin with. 

If yours is a traditional family, encourage your kids to build friendships with those whose attendance is sporadic because of any of the three issues mentioned at the top of the article and then offer to pick up these kids and drive them to church yourselves.

 


1 If the church could afford the lesson books for each kid. Our church did for awhile, but we used a 6-point evaluation system, and I’m not sure which one in the list wasn’t included. Today, the cash cow for curriculum developers is VBS, and I suspect that many churches pour a lot of their CE budget there, instead of on weekly lesson workbooks.

2 Somewhat Biblically literate, that is; please don’t challenge me to a Bible trivia contest. For some reason I do not fare well at those.

3 Even if the parents weren’t attending, getting the kids to Sunday School was easier when there was a church bus available. Today, the phrase ‘church bus’ is a bit of an anachronism.

4 Focus on the Family did this research in the 1990s, I think. Extrapoloating from this, I’ve developed a theory that it’s equally important for kids to have memories of the male parent reading. (Related, see this item re. Bill Hybels’ ‘Chair Time’ concept.)

5 The American system of ‘freshman, sophomore, junior, senior’ is now under attack because of the men in freshman. To non-Americans, junior would tend to imply the first year of high school or college.

6 In some middle school and high school communities, it isn’t cool to go to church. But churches such as North Point have created curricula that the kids and teens find to be the highlight of their week. They can’t wait to get there each weekend.

7 For more about the impact of kids being shuttled back and forth between custodial parents, check out the 2008 Abingdon title, The Switching Hour.

 

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

October 14, 2016

Today, Lawyers Would Nix This Book

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

I really don’t know how this book came into our home. I was looking for something else and suddenly there it was, published by Zondervan in the year MCMXLVI.*

chemical-illustrations-by-basil-miller

The book is part of Christian Education resource genre referred to as “Object Lessons,” and these may have been more prevalent in early days than they are presently. The book naturally fell open to the following page:

chemical-illustration

Reaching the list of necessary chemicals at the bottom I realized that this book would never be published today.

First of all, your church’s insurance policy would probably be all over quashing the idea of someone showing up for church with turpentine, ammonia and kerosene. I know that when I show up for church with those things, the greeter at the door always takes me aside.

Second, Zondervan’s lawyers would have the same concerns and not want to be in a position of liability encouraging people to do this little trick. A page later, we’re warned, “Care should be taken not to spill any of the ingredients or the completed solution.” I guess so. I would be uncomfortable with the idea of doing this with adults, let alone teens or children. Things are simply too litigious these days than to risk presenting this in a church basement.

zondervan-classic-logo


*70 years ago in 1946

August 18, 2016

One Day at the Christian Bookstore (Sort of)

From the archives at Christian Book Shop Talk, this never appeared here until now.


The exchange below didn’t actually follow the exact script shown, but when it comes to Sunday School teachers and Christian Education directors purchasing novelty items it’s a scene I’d like to see repeated…

Customer: I’m looking for something to give my Sunday School class on the first week; maybe some pencils or something…

Clerk: You know, kids are pretty high-tech these days, they’re not really impressed with pencils anymore and we’ve kinda stopped ordering them.

smileCustomer: Well, what does that leave? How about some rubber stamp things, or stickers; or one time I got bookmarks with smiley faces…

Clerk: You know, forgive me for saying this, since I don’t know you well, but maybe you should just give them you.

Customer: I’m sorry. What was that?

Clerk: Maybe you should just give them yourself. Pour your life into them. Spend time listening to their stories. Invite them over to your house a few times.

Customer: Okay. I get that. But I really felt I was meant to come in and buy something here today.

Clerk: And so you should. Invest in your own spiritual development. Build yourself up in God’s Word, and then, out of the overflow, you’ll have so much more to give your Sunday School students.

Customer: Like what?

Clerk: I don’t know. It will be different for each person. But something that challenges you to get deeper into Bible study, deeper into prayer, deeper into global missions, deeper into witness… deeper into Jesus.

Customer: But that doesn’t directly benefit my Sunday School class.

Clerk: Actually it does directly. As you are being moved deeper into grace and deeper into knowledge; as you are being moved toward the cross; your kids will pick up on that spiritual momentum. It’s truly the best gift you can give them.

June 7, 2016

Rewind: Visiting Past Themes

We don’t…

Not AllowedAs someone who has spent a lifetime in and around Christian music, whenever I visit a church I often make my way to the front after the service and converse with the worship team, especially when I know one or two of the musicians.

A few weeks ago I did just that, and we started talking about songs that have the possibility of two parts being sung at the same time. Then we talked about ‘call and response’ songs where the worship leader sings a line and then the congregation repeats it. Then we talked about songs that parts for men and women.

At that point someone on the team said, “We don’t do men’s and women’s parts here.”

Days later, I was sharing this story with someone who knew exactly where I had been and they made an interesting comment, “I wonder how many times in the course of a week someone at that church begins a sentence with ‘We don’t?’

So true. So sad. Some Christian institutions have policy after policy; operating guidelines carved in stone for no particular reason. My feeling is, if you don’t have worship songs that offer something where women’s voices and men’s voices can highlight their unique giftedness, then next week would be a good week to start.

I hope the place where you worship isn’t characterized by a spirit of ‘We don’t…’


Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.


Paul Vaughan on 90% of the Work is Done by 10% of the People

Paul was a Canadian pastor who, after a successful insurance career, served as a missionary in Kenya; a place so arid that converts were baptized in sand. Returning to North America, he dedicated his time to the type of causes that nobody else wanted to embrace. He was a big influence on me…

It’s probably accurate that 90% of the work of the church is done by 10% of the people. The problem is that those who do the work, if they do it anonymously, receive all the glory. If they do it publicly, they ruffle feathers. Those who take the lion’s share of the life of the church are denying the body of the church the blessing and the opportunity. Probably the most blatant thing is that if a few are doing the work of many, then why would the Lord surround himself with a number of people with which to share the ministry? Why would he commission and ordain and send them two by two. Let’s ask ourselves the basic question, why isn’t all ministry, preaching, teaching and healing done by legions of angels? Why does God choose the fallible, unreliable, flesh-covered method that he did?

He chose us knowing that, through the Holy Spirit, we are capable of fulfilling the task given to us. But in addition, his constant emphasis of community of family — in the Hebrew, hebron; in the Greek, koinonia; in English, fellowship — is critical in church life. If it’s going to be a one man band then we will certainly stir a lot of people, but I wonder if we’re praising the Lord, serving the Lord, healing the hurts, and reaching the untouched.

One of the reasons that the modern day cults are successful is that they have clearly grabbed the demonstration given in scripture about assignment of tasks. If you become a Mormon, you owe their church two years missionary service. So if an apostate church demands that, why are we humming and hawing and hoping that if someone accepts the Lord, they might ask for offering envelopes and maybe they’ll join a small group and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they offered a musical gift, or taught children, or could sweep the floor. Why are we not a little more bold in demonstrating that millions haven’t heard and there’s work to be done?…


Paul Vaughan on Over-Commitment

There is a natural fear within a man that he is either going to overextend himself — because he knows the effect of a shotgun scattering small pellets is not as effective as one shell under high velocity compressed into a small area — and some people are able to so spread themselves that they are ineffective in any one area. But I believe that God who has given us mercy, grace and wisdom and peace also gives us the opportunity to exercise prudence and in doing so we are led to resign from one particular organization — graciously — in order to amplify and reapply ourselves with greater intensity in another area.

One of the measuring sticks of that might be that you decide which talent you have is least likely to be accepted by the mainstream of Christianity. And that’s where God really wants you. …He does release power, long-suffering, endurance and incredible energy to apply ourselves in the hard places of the world.

…I suggest to everyone who is seriously to apply themselves before the Lord to ask God, who is the creator of time; and God, who will cause time to stand still; to direct them toward a specific plan and program of action, suited to their lifestyle under the Lord and suited to the gifts and talents that God has given them.

 

May 15, 2016

Open But Cautious

There’s a phrase that I think I first heard used in some Christian and Missionary Alliance settings about the gifts of The Holy Spirit: “Open, but cautious.” Simply put, it represents people who are open to Spirit-led expressions of faith and doctrine but with the caveat of keeping their eyes wide open (or perhaps having one eye on scripture).

While my wife and I don’t attend weekly worship in a Charismatic or Assemblies of God-type of setting, I would say I am very much onside doctrinally inasmuch as I (a) am not a cessationist1, (b) believe in the limitless power of God to do the things people count as impossible2, and (c) believe that the things of God should touch our emotions as well as our minds3.

That said, when info about this camp came across my Twitter feed last night, I found it disturbing:

Signs and Wonders Camp

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in summer camp ministry. Find a camp, make sure it’s affiliated with Christian Camping International or Christian Camp & Conference Association or your denomination; and then send the kids as soon as they’re able to be away from home for a few nights. (I even wrote recently about some long-term benefits to be gained, apart from the spiritual immersion value.)

I also recognize that in Children’s Ministry (or KidMin as its now often referred to) there needs to be a point in the curriculum where you emphasize the distinctives of your doctrine, and if your kids are being raised in a Charismatic church, you want them to both have an education and have experiences with different facets of that environment.

So, I like Pentecostals, like camping and like KidMin. So what’s the problem?

Open, but cautious.

I’m not sure; I would just rather it was an adventure camp, or a horsemanship camp; or if you must title it after the teaching theme, a discipleship camp or a Christian leadership camp. I’d rather pin the emphasis on the giver rather than the gifts. I would prefer to focus on the normal Christian life rather than the occasions where God breaks in with the supernatural. I also don’t want to raise expectations for kids about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of sign gifts that could lead to disappointment.

Maybe I’m just a lousy Charismatic. Maybe I’m not attuned enough to the language and culture of some of today’s popular doctrinal streams.

Hopefully I am a realistic Christian who still believes in the ability of God to do the impossible; but with the awareness that the thing that makes the exceptional the exceptional is that it doesn’t happen every day.  So parents, would you send your kid to Signs and Wonders camp?

Signs and Wonders IHOP


1 I have actually never owned a Cessna, nor do I have a pilot’s license. More seriously, I do not see the end of the apostolic age or the completion of the canon of scripture signalling the end of certain gifts.
2 This said, my faith can be as weak as the next guy’s in certain situations, not to mention a trademark Canadian pessimism that at times permeates my prayer life.
3 The things of God should touch our hearts and our emotions, but often they don’t. Spiritual complacency and apathy are always crouching at the door, and when a preacher tries to rev up an audience into emotional frenzy, I am often the first to want to shut down completely.

April 4, 2016

Not Your Parents’ CCM

I realize we ended last week with both a Thursday and Friday post about worship music, and this isn’t a worship or music blog, but today’s topic just kinda landed on the doorstep over the weekend…


 

And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
 Revelation 14:2 NIV

There has been much talk about what the next wave of Christian music will consist of, and in particular, what the next generation will do with the enormous catalog of modern worship songs it is being handed.

Many idealists would prefer that the next generation simply accept the status quo, and that nothing drastic changes; even though that generation greatly shook up and shattered the paradigm handed it from their parents. However, a simple study of musicology reveals that for the past thousand years (and beyond) every period in music history is a reaction to the period which preceded it.

What follows is my opinion only, but there has to come a point when millennials reject the current styles in either large measure or in some small measure. People who agree with this notion usually say something like:

  • There will be an entirely new form
  • There will be a return to the hymns
  • There will be more of a blended worship approach
  • There will be new songs, but a return of four-part harmony
  • There will be fewer vertical worships songs and more songs of testimony
  • There will be less instrumentation; a minimalist or even acapella aproach
  • There will be more interest in Episcopal or Anglican forms; or chants and Taizé
  • There will be an emphasis on preaching, and less music, so it won’t really matter
  • There will be a decline of congregational participation, and a return to performed solos, choirs, etc.
  • There will be a situation where the congregation becomes passive, and music videos are simply watched

But I think a change is already in the works; it’s been happening for a few years now and it consists of

  • A rejection of Nashville as the music agenda-setting capital of the Christian world, with the next generation church embracing a more European sound
  • A rejection of the guitar as the primary contemporary worship instrument, with worship leaders playing keyboards, especially synthesizers.

(Apologies to Third Day and Big Daddy Weave; et al.)

Hillsong Y&F - Youth RevivalI believe that nothing expresses this better than the new Hillsong Young and Free album, Youth Revival. I’ve been listening to cuts from this over and over again. It puts a smile on my face. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s also the band I hear at North Point Online before and after the Sunday live service feeds.)

I realize that this opinion may not sit well with Chris Tomlin fans. I’m just sayin’ that if you have a choice between guitar lessons and piano lessons for the kids and you’re a forward-looking parent, I would go with the piano. As a keyboard player who never once got to play at a campfire, I realize the instrument has some limitations, but I think the next generation is looking for something completely different than G, C, Em, D7 or its many variations.

Hillsong Young and Free stand somewhere between Hillsong Kids and Hillsong United. I get the whole Radio Disney thing. Nonetheless, I believe they best represent the change already taking place.


 

Sadly, the three videos originally posted here have been removed from YouTube and there are no substitutes available as of May 14, 2016.

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