Thinking Out Loud

August 23, 2015

Heard and Seen This Week

Sermon podcastsHere are some things that I watched and listened to in the last seven days:

  • Jeff Manion, Ada Bible Church, Grand Rapids — The author of Satisfied and The Land Between was recommended to me a long time ago, but it took until this week for me to finally see what I had missing. Great speaker and a must-see if I’m ever in west Michigan. The sermon I watched in full was the second in a five-part series preached over the winter titled Five Days. Here’s the link to Who’s In Charge?
  • Gary Burge, Willow Creek, Chicago Northwest Suburbs — As Dr. Burge, a Wheaton College professor, begins this Midweek Experience message, he explained that there are no assigned topics in the summer, so he chose to do this one on The Unpardonable Sin.
  • Bruxy Cavey, The Meeting House, Oakville, Ontario — I finished all eight weeks of a sermon series on the first part of the life of Moses, a series to be continued in 2016. The series is called Chosen One.
  • Andy Stanley, North Point, Atlanta — In a few minutes I’m starting part two of a series titled What Makes You Happy. Live streaming of the full service today at 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 PM and midnight at the link below; and available later in the week on demand. A little bird (Twitter) told me the focus today is The Beatitudes.

What did you watch this week?

August 17, 2015

The Perils of Being the Guest Speaker

guest speakingI was coming to my third point when I noticed my mouth was getting dry from all the talking. Sometimes at work, I just push past this, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the glass of water that had been placed there.

I paused, picked up the glass, hesitated, and took a small sip. You guessed it. It was water that had been sitting there from the previous Sunday. Were some in the audience aware of what had just happened? Should I acknowledge the distraction? With the adrenaline rush that you get when you’re speaking before a group of people, I simply continued on in my message.

I did not get sick that day. I’ve often wondered if in this denomination, it’s the pastor’s responsibility to refresh the water glass himself. As a guest speaker, it’s certainly an occupational hazard.

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Over the course of a couple of years, I had become the default speaker when the pastor, who had ministry interests both in Europe and Central America, needed to be away.

The first Sunday I arrived wearing a dress shirt and dress pants, but no jacket or tie. I was fairly certain this wasn’t normal for that church, but I wanted to make a statement.

The second time I spoke there I also went business casual, but this time, in my introduction, I explained how my work and my writing put me in contact with dynamic churches and pastors across North America and how the church is changing, being very careful to emphasize changes in church architecture, ministry philosophy, music and dress. I think I even acknowledge my own lack of a tie as example of this.

The third time — or just before the third time via email — one of the members told me that a few of them had been part of a discussion resulting in the decision that they would chip in and buy me a suit. “Where else would I wear it?” I asked. Even at the last wedding and funeral I attended, a sports jacket had been sufficient. “I think I do indeed own a suit;” I told them, “But that’s not the direction the North American church is moving.”

The fourth time I simply donned the sports jacket as I was leaving the house. When I arrived at the church, I noticed a few smiles.

…We got to hear John Wimber a couple of times in Southern California in 1989. They were both Sunday evening services, and he was wearing a track suit. Actually, he played with the worship band and then got up to preach, and if someone had said to you, ‘One of the people in the band is the pastor and tonight’s speaker; now guess who it is;” unless you’d seen his picture on his books, I guarantee you would have gotten it wrong.

Andy Stanley wears jeans for the most part, though not yesterday. In the south, it’s all very natural. Rick Warren has his trademark Hawaiian shirts. Bill Hybels is always very corporate, but I’ve never seen him in a suit, and not sure if I’ve seen him in a jacket and tie. (A quick scan of Yahoo Images bears this out, but for the one shot that I’m sure was taken at a banquet.)

The church in question now has a new minister so my guest-speaking and clothing-paradigm-smashing days there appear to be over. What I hope they remember is that the messages were good, but if my name is mentioned, what I think they may remember will have nothing to do with the Bible expositions I brought.

August 7, 2015

Life at the Church is Kinda Laid Back: How our Preaching Sounds to Newcomers

Two years ago we went on a farm tour. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’ The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with.

As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity.

Bible teaching and preaching(I should also add that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.)

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were presented with answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist. We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimetres apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who. We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why? We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created the variants? One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from? There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

July 23, 2015

The Calvinist and the Altar Call

I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.

This clip was posted (or re-posted) by Free Gift Media, a new resource I am just being made aware of. To learn more check their Twitter and their website.

July 14, 2015

Great Preaching

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

Phil 4-13

Something a little different today…

This is rather uncharacteristic, but today I want to highlight the preaching ministry of Rev. Charles Price, former Principal of Capenwray Bible School and for the last 15 years the pastor of The Peoples Church, Toronto. This was recorded at Landsdowne Church, a Baptist congregation in Bournemouth, England. The video was posted last month and has only had a handful of views. I’d love to be instrumental in changing that. Not every one of my readers will have the 35 minutes for this, but those who make time for this sermon on Philippians 4 will be well-rewarded.

It also seemed appropriate to include this classic Graham Kendrick song, for reasons that are apparent if you watch the whole sermon.

March 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

I found this at the comics blog, Comic Curmudgeon with this caption: Hmm, Dennis’s teacher takes him aside after class, as if to gently correct him privately, but makes sure to do it while the other children are still in earshot, so that they can snicker at his ignorance! I’d say the menace has become the menaced, except that Dennis managed to get a Sunday School lesson to linger on nudity and shame, so maybe he’s playing a much deeper game here.

I found this at the comics blog, Comics Curmudgeon with this caption:
Hmm, Dennis’s teacher takes him aside after class, as if to gently correct him privately, but makes sure to do it while the other children are still in earshot, so that they can snicker at his ignorance! I’d say the menace has become the menaced, except that Dennis managed to get a Sunday School lesson to linger on nudity and shame, so maybe he’s playing a much deeper game here.

 

Featured Links

Your Church’s Management Culture – Thom Schultz looks at five models, the Family Run church, the Celebrity Centered church, the Deacon Possessed church (I loved that title), the Team Oriented church and the Democracy Weighted church. “Every congregation–and each ministry within it–takes on a style of governance that shapes its work and effectiveness…Sometimes a church’s structure becomes its very focus. People become devoted to the system, rather than to God.”

Navigating a Major Staff Departure – After 16 years of working together, Andy Stanley was so concerned with his friend Joel Thomas’ decision-making conundrum that Andy didn’t initially communicate that he didn’t want Joel to leave. And Joel broke all the rules of disclosure, bringing Andy into the discussion from day one. A 19-minute leadership podcast on what Andy calls Open-Handed staffing.

What Some Christians Think About Christians in Other Tribes – As listicles go, this collection of 10 Myths will make you think. Sample: “Interpretations differ because one party respects the Bible less… [T]his myth rests on the very shaky assumption that respect for Scripture always leads to correct interpretation and application of scripture. Too bad scripture itself doesn’t back this assumption! Apollos fervently respected the Old Testament and teachings of John the Baptist. But his own sermons were off-base enough for Priscilla and Aquila to pull him aside and give him a crash course in the gospel of Jesus.”

Preaching Christologically – Encouraged to “preach Christ in every sermon” hands go up at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with objections to the idealism of this approach because, “my sermon text is focused on a particular doctrinal truth” or “my sermon text is focused on a moral truth and not on Christ” or “my sermon text is focused on a moral truth” or “every sermon begins to sound the same.” The response to these situations is found in something published in 1801.

Confessional Accounts and the Women (and Men) Who Write Them – This precis of an article from The Hedgehog Review begins with Augustine’s Confessions and moves to modern times: “..But now …confessional literature is a consumer product and (usually) female writers are the commodifiers and the commodified… If their work has anything in common, it’s a mixture of self-consciousness and shamelessness… I too have seen Serious Literary Types raise an eyebrow at first-person narrative essays by women as though it was, by definition, evidence of vanity and triviality. When sold or produced as a genre, Women’s Confessional Literature can be a cynical enterprise that capitalizes on voyeurism.”

Parenting with Perspective – Baker Books author Emily Wierenga: “My friend tells me about a family from her neighborhood whose house burnt down in a fire – and they weren’t able to make it upstairs in time to reach their four oldest kids. Four boys. Now in heaven. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever heard. I just weep and weep. Some things are too much and this feels like one of them. No mother should have to outlive one of her children, let alone four … I want to cling to every single one of my children’s moments, good and bad, long and short, messy and smudged with kisses, because I’m never going to look back and miss that Mommy Time.”

Looking Further Down the Worship Road – Songwriter and producer Brenton Brown: “At least two significant challenges face us as worship leaders. The first is that often we become so engaged in the immediate worship needs that we delay beginning the process of developing the leaders around us. Saying ‘yes’ to developing leaders at certain points will mean saying ‘no’ to other ministry opportunities. There will always be need, but if we are to be effective in serving people in worship we need to break out of the survivalist mentality and plan for the long-haul. The second challenge that faces us, more often than not, is our artistic/perfectionist temperaments which seem to rear up at any hint of a possible drop in standards.”

Making Multi-Faith Mandatory in Medicine – Under new guidelines issued this month by the National Health Service in the UK, hospitals would be required to provide atheist chaplains. ““Chaplains already show no discrimination in dealing with patients whatever their background or belief. Providing atheist chaplains is an exercise in pointless political correctness. Taxpayers’ money should not be spent on this misguided attempt to comply with the perceived demands of equality laws, when they are already met by existing services.”

L’Arche Founder Wins Templeton Prize – Americans could be forgiven for not knowing Jean Vanier (or how to pronounce his French name) but are probably more aware of Henri Nouwen who joined L’Arche, the organization Vanier founded, after a career as a Catholic seminary professor. L’Arche, founded over 50 years ago became “an international network of communities for mentally disabled people” and last week it was announced that Vanier has “won the 2015 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Vanier has 22 books currently in print (in English) including the popular From Brokenness to Community and the 10th anniversary edition of Becoming Human and is known for affirming the dignity of developmentally challenged adults.

Rolling in the Deeps – Why anyone would go to the trouble of crafting a religious sculpture and then placing it out of sight underwater is anyone’s guess, though in this collection of five such placements we’re told that two of them were: “placed underwater by local officials to help discourage fishing techniques that use explosives. Since fisherman know the statues are down there, they don’t use dynamite.”

One for the Road – The artist currently known as Prince has covered a 2005 song by Christian artist Nicole Nordeman. Her reaction.

And-on-the-7th-day

Short Takes

We end with long-time favorite cartoonist John McPherson:

close-to-home-on-blogging1

March 14, 2015

Weekend Link List

Found online in 2009, this Taco Bell menu board was not made up.

Found online in 2009, this Taco Bell menu board was not made up.

Featured Links
Don’t miss the bonus short takes at the bottom.

The Pastor in the Larger Community – This is one of a series currently running at Pomomusings: “…I thought it was some Christian youth thing, but found out it was a free community event that was requesting people to give five minute presentations about something they were passionate about. Liking microphones and sharing my passion it was a perfect fit… That night, in a community space surrounded by people I didn’t know, most of whom didn’t go to church, many of whom didn’t want anything to do with church, I gave a presentation about changing the perceptions of Christians in the public square, suggesting that we weren’t all like Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson, and that some of us were open to having conversations, not to convert people but to learn from people. That event sparked several relationships that expanded my role as pastor to a part of the community that I would never have had access to in the church.”

‘Amen’ is Now Replaced by Applause – “No congregation should be faulted for wanting to make some sort of response in a service of worship. Worship in many places needs more of that. But applause is known in virtually every other context as affirmation for performance. Thus, the question: is applause during worship our best choice to affirm what is happening? …Applause is a way of saying ‘We like that,’ or ‘You did a good job.’…One isn’t required to declare what is said or sung as the truth. One isn’t required to put the weight of one’s character behind applause. …When a prayer ends with the Amen of the congregation, we are saying ‘That is my prayer too,’ or ‘I own that as the truth.’ That seems to me more potent than applause that says, ‘I like that,’ or ‘Nice going.'”

If Jesus Addressed the U.S. Congress – “Jesus is introduced. (Standing ovation.) He stands before Congress and begins to deliver his speech. ‘Blessed are the poor…the mourners…the meek.’ ‘Love your enemies.’ ‘Turn the other cheek.’ After a few perfunctory applause early on, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of squirming senators and uncomfortable congressmen. The room would sink into a tense silence. And when Jesus concluded his speech with a prophecy of the inevitable fall of the house that would not act upon his words, what would Congress do? Nothing. They would not act. They could not act. To act on Jesus’ words would undo their system… In the end, the U.S. Congress would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate…” An excerpt from A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd.

Four Sermon Types You Don’t Want to Preach – Sample (#3) on the type of sermons which seem to best serve to reflect the pastor’s seminary education: “The sermon sounds like a lecture because it is a lecture. It titillates the intellect, but fails to minister to the affections. Its delivery even (perhaps unintentionally) suggests that only the few—those endowed by special wisdom and insight—can possibly be trusted to understand what the Bible says.”

Meditations, Devotions and Prayer Books, Oh My! – Starting with My Utmost for His Highest, Publishers Weekly looks at the devotional book genre both within and outside a Christian context and finds things trending toward shorter readings, while customers choose the books for visual appeal. Also noted: “‘Religion books in general are somewhat insulated from the digital shift,’ says Andrew Yankech, business development manager for Loyola Press. ‘But prayer books in particular tend to be print-focused because readers are more often than not seeking a respite from the pressures of the daily grind, and that includes modern technology.’ At Loyola, Yankech says, the sales ratio of print prayer books to digital ones is 10-to-one—’or higher.’ The figures at Harvest House tell a similar story. Of its top 10 nonfiction e-book categories, devotionals have the lowest percentage of sales in e-book format, with e-book versions accounting for just 6% of total sales for all devotionals.”

Why Didn’t They Just Book a Last-Minute Substitute? – “They canceled the retreat because I am a Mormon. My initial response was shock. After nearly a year of planning this retreat, they’re canceling now? For this? (And how could they not know from a two-second Google search that I am Mormon? It’s not like I’ve tried to be stealthy about my faith. I co-wrote Mormonism for Dummies, for heaven’s sake.) But any shock and anger I felt soon dissolved into pure sadness. What a thing. These people are willing to sacrifice all the effort and expense they’ve put in to planning this retreat (yes, I am still getting paid since I did all the prep work) because they’re just now noticing the Scarlet M emblazoned on my chest. The organizer told me that the church leaders had determined that I was not an ‘appropriate’ person to be a leader at a Christian event. She sounded sad about it too.”

Preparing Yourself to Minister at a Funeral – “Just when you think you have seen it all—the next funeral reveals you haven’t.  Even if you have seen fights break out, arrests made, uncontrollable wailing, family members and pallbearers fainting, caskets dropped and knocked over, shouting conflicts between families and funeral directors, or funeral attire that would make most people blush,  these experiences do not mean at all the next funeral will fit these experiences.  Because of this, prepare to see anything.  Prepare to get the craziest response to something you say.  Prepare to watch families at their worst.  This will allow you to think clearly and wisely when the unexpected happens.”

Lysa TerKeurst on Rejection Letters – Today she hardly needs a link here to point people to her writing, but it wasn’t always that way. “…I hung my head, got into my car, and drove to my local bookstore. I saved up all my tears until I was smack dab in the middle of thousands of other books – thousands of other writers who’d received a thumbs up to their dreams – thousands of other people with evidence that their writing mattered – and I sobbed… Sometimes callings from God unfold in a miraculous instant. But more often callings happen within a million slow moments of revelation and maturation. I needed to experience God revealing Himself and maturing me so I could properly handle the Truth I would eventually write and speak about…”

High Praise for Faith-Focused Film – On Confessions of a Prodigal Son: “I didn’t have high hopes that this would be a cinematic masterpiece, and it wasn’t. However, when the end credits rolled, the lights came up, and Spiers spoke on his concerns about the final product, I had to agree with him when he said that his fears of making a stereotypically-bad faith film weren’t realized… In fact, it was actually good, and for several of the reasons that such films usually fail. [Director Allan] Spiers’ experience as a documentary cinematographer translates well into the narrative genre by giving Confessions a simple but realistic visual setup whereas most faith films try to imitate a grand Hollywood style and fall embarrassingly short.”

The people behind the Wow music brand apparently have taken note of the presence of remixes. Better late than never?

The people behind the Wow music brand apparently have finally noted of the presence of remixes.

Short Takes

Finally, now we know what happened to the dinosaurs:

Dino Rapture

March 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

This isn't related to anything that follows, it's just here... because.

This isn’t related to anything that follows, it’s just here… because.

Featured Links

Passivity, Submission, Bullying and Christian Womanhood – “As I grew up, I watched my Christian mother take a lot of emotional and verbal abuse…from my father and my older siblings, from people at church, her own siblings (my aunts and uncles), and neighbors. My mother rarely stood up for herself when she was treated poorly… I was also being taught to bottle up all my anger and never speak up on my own behalf, if mistreated. I was taught that the bully’s feelings were more important than my own… After many decades of living like this, when I got to adulthood I had no clue how to deal with conflict…Sometimes it took weeks, months, or years before I even recognized that I was being used or being treated poorly by someone because my mother (and Christian literature, sermons, Christian books, magazine articles, etc) had taught me to never think about myself, my feelings, or my needs, but to be intently ‘outward-focused,’ always striving to meet other people’ s needs because to do anything less was supposedly ‘selfish.’…I also had no skills or practice at how to handle conflict. I was taught that conflict was to be avoided, Christian women ought not to debate or argue with anyone nor to be assertive for any reason. This left me vulnerable to being picked on in adulthood with adult predators, as well as being mistreated as a kid by other kids …Many well-meaning Christians and churches unfortunately encourage girls and women to be this way, to think it is pleasing to God, or that God commands all women to be this way…”

Crafting the Best Sermons – Two links here; first an experienced pastor explains his decision to go back to writing full manuscripts: “I’ve found that if I don’t manuscript, I’m not capable of producing the kind of sermon that will live up to the kind of church that we want to see planted.” And then, the practical: “In the old days, before church planting, I’d devote four mornings a week to sermon preparation. On Monday and Tuesday I’d work on exegesis; on Wednesday and Thursday I’d begin to craft a sermon from the exegesis. I now do the same thing, except on one day: Thursday.”

Engaging the Culture: An Open Letter to Hozier, composer of Take Me To Church – “I had to find out more about you to understand why someone would write such lyrics. According to interviews you seem to have animus toward the Catholic Church and definitely an issue with Russia’s laws against homosexuals. Still to indict all of Christianity seems quite harsh. It is worth noting you wrote this song when you were only 22-years-old. Your fellow Irish rocker Bono has arrived at a very different view of the Church and Christianity with a few more years of life experience. Maybe given some time and a few more interactions with Christ followers you might have a change of heart.”

The Weather Impacts Church Revenues – “‘You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs,’ Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England, told the Associated Press. She told the news service that the financial toll might force some of the 60 Presbyterian churches in the region to close. Other denominations and religions told the AP of similar predicaments.”

Dawkins: Your Devotional Time with the Kids is Child Abuse  – “Richard Dawkins has said that children need to be protected from ‘religious indoctrination’ by their parents. The prominent atheist claimed that being brought up in a religious household prevents young people from being ‘properly educated’. Professor Dawkins, a well known evolutionary biologist, has previously caused outrage by remarking that teaching a child orthodox Christian beliefs about life after death is tantamount to ‘child abuse’.”

And Now for Something Completely Different – You don’t have to know exactly what Biblical Philology is to appreciate the self-congratulatory nature of this academic’s knowledge of the original sacred texts.

Don’t Fund-Raise Your Missions Trip on Social Media Alone – “It won’t be enough to just promote your mission trip through social media platforms. Fundraising will cost you time, work, money, and personal comfort. Be careful not to go the path of least resistance. Social media is the easiest way to get the word out to lots of people at once, but easy doesn’t always mean effective. Don’t shy away from the hard work of communicating with individuals, organizing events, doing extra jobs, and all kinds of other creative ways people have come up with missionary support.”

Museum of the Bible – “When it opens in late 2017, just about every aspect of the planned Museum of the Bible – the building materials, doorways and common areas – is intended to bring to mind the Holy Land or stories from the Bible itself. Hobby Lobby president Steven Green, in search of a home for his museum, purchased the building for $50 million… in Washington, D.C., located a few blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall.”

A Crisis in Cosmology – A new film, The Principle is now showing in selected markets and available for presentation in your city. “Dark Energy as we call it is the greatest mystery in all of creation.” “Science has said you must stay over in this category here, you’re not to go over into the God category, because that’s going to destroy our science.” “You can go on websites…NASA has started to take down stuff that might hint to a geocentric universe.” “We find ourselves in a part of the universe that is perfectly tuned to life.”

Quest Church Purchases the former Mars Hill Ballard – Eugene Cho writes, “No one could have imagined the situation at Mars Hill turning out the way that it turned out. When we first heard that the building would be available on the market, we met with their team and they expressed their desire to sell to a church if possible. They received a total of 10 offers – 9 from developers with tenants in tow and one from Quest. We weren’t the highest offer but we offered flexible conditions. They were true to their word for which we are grateful.”

The Worst Book Ever Written About Jesus –  Sadly, books like this are far too common, and often appear shelved at Barnes & Noble next to works more worthy of respect. Customers lacking discernment don’t know the difference. “For example, the authors argue that a celibate man in first-century Galilee would have been shocking, so Jesus must have been married. While overstated, we can follow their intended logic. But they also maintain throughout the book that Jesus’ marriage was so scandalous that it had to be covered up. So which was it? Was Jesus’ sexuality scandalous to his first followers or not?”

Frank Viola, The Songwriter – Who knew? And the song is good, though the tune is borrowed. border

Short Takes

Chris Rice once asked, "What if cartoons got saved?" Now Dan Pagoda asks, "What if cartoons were pastors?" Click the image to see all five.

Chris Rice once asked, “What if cartoons got saved?” Now Dan Pegoda asks, “What if cartoons were pastors?” Click the image to see all five.

 

 

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

img 031015

Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

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February 27, 2015

Target of the Month: Andy Stanley

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

Andy Stanley - Why in the WorldIt only takes one or two conservative bloggers to write something against a particular pastor or author and quickly, and all their many acolytes jump on the bandwagon. It was such with Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker, though few of his critics had ever bothered to read his earlier works, or, as the criticism continued, his new book The Grave Robber which is nothing more than straight commentary on the miracles in John’s gospel.

I noticed over the past week that North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia has become the most recent target. I have followed Andy’s sermon series to the point where I can safely say that there is not a sermon that he has preached in the past six or seven years (or however long the streaming site northpointonline.tv has existed) that I have not heard. I believe I can offer an informed opinion based on a high degree of intimacy with where he is coming from.

While I believe he needs no defending I wish to offer what follows.

1) You cannot preach the whole compendium of Christianity in a single sermon.

Anyone who tries to isolate a particular theme in scripture from the larger picture, and then pretend that it represents the entirety of Christian doctrine would be foolish. So when Paul speaks in Philippians about adopting the attitude of humility, you could try to extrapolate from that the idea that Christianity consists merely of walking with a humble attitude as Christ did, and you would miss other themes such as his divinity, the need for repentance, the atoning work of Calvary, the second coming judgment, etc.

You can try to work everything in to your weekly sermon if you wish, but your preaching will become repetitive, and you won’t leave enough time to really grow your people in different areas. Each of the epistles and each of the minor prophets has a particular emphasis; and while it’s helpful to see the Christological features of a particular book, it’s not helpful it appears forced.

2) Veteran Christians are in emotional bondage to certain words and phrases.

It was Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey who first pointed this out to several of us. He had just preached a long sermon where he passionately referred to “the Kingship of God,” and then as people were leaving took some criticism from a woman upset that he had never mentioned the sovereignty of God. Sovereign and King are the same thing in my dictionary, but because he didn’t use the right words, she wrote him off.

In the rush to condemnation, many critics have an imaginary checklist and as preachers use certain references they award approval. (Right now “gospel” is worth five points for the initial use and three points for each additional usage; “ESV” is worth six points.)

3) Sometimes it takes a fresh analogy.

I believe the purpose of Jesus’ parables was in part to restate truths in a fresh way.  In my own discussions with people about a particular issue, I’ll speak about the way I believe God intended us to live, and then borrowing a computer term, I’ll suggest we need to ask God to help us “restore default settings;” i.e. return to the original design.

I don’t believe for a minute that anyone doing this on a regular basis is departing from orthodoxy any more than translating the book of Mark into Swahili is an affront to the original Greek text.

4) The best local church preaching is contextual.

There is a clash of objectives that takes place when a local church puts their sermons online for the world to watch. For that reason I’ve heard that a handful of churches are opting out of media pages on their websites. The sermons were preached in a single location at a particular time for a unique group of people.

Andy Stanley has an interesting demographic thing going on right now at North Point. You see it reflected occasionally in the testimonies of people being baptized, but it really needs to be the subject of a whole other article than we have space for here. Suffice it to say that in the current sermon series where he is speaking about “the Temple model,” he is really addressing the problem of religion in a way that mostly avoids the R-word; and he’s doing this with a particular hearer in mind. Perhaps it’s just one person, that one person coming from a place in life where this approach resonates, and then it is being expressed to a larger audience.

5) It doesn’t get more exegetical than this.

The complaint is often that ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches have topical sermons, but as I watch Andy Stanley working his way through passages on a phrase-by-phrase basis, what I see is a very old-school style of teaching — you can easily visualize people marking their Bibles — being offered with freshness and passion. Last Sunday’s message (the fourth in the series) had six specific passages (they’re posted for reference before and after the sermon) of which at least a couple went into great detail.

But before I dismiss this, why are we still hauling out this ‘seeker sensitive’ label? That’s so 1983. Survey results at North Point among people attending five weeks or less shows a desire on the part of many to go deep and jump into service. The people who show up and brave the traffic congestion at the various North Point sites in greater Atlanta are not necessarily doing this just to fill a spectator role. (Study results at Willow Creek also confirm this.) When you castigate the church with a pejorative use of the ‘seeker sensitive’ adjective, you’re really demeaning very sincere people who hunger after more of God.  The problem is not that some churches are seeker-friendly; the problem is that too many churches are seeker-hostile.

6) Listeners are encouraged to come back for more.

There is a classic story of Dwight L. Moody opting one week not to give an altar call, which proved to be the week before the Chicago Fire in which many perished. The story is told to encourage pastors to lead people to a point of decision on a weekly basis.

While the imperative of the gospel is “choose today who you will serve,” and “now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation;” odds are that an Atlanta fire will not consume the city in the week to come. The whole point of a sermon series is to build toward a conclusion.

The first Sunday of any of the North Point series is intentionally introductory. But the final Sunday often ends with the band playing the 21st Century version of Just As I Am, or some song that leads people to a point of decision and taking next steps. I don’t believe it’s fair to isolate any particular messages without looking at the whole.

7) We often misunderstand the role and power of sermon.

I’ve written before about how ideally, Evangelicals need to see sermons through a sacramental lens. Compared to Roman Catholic or Mainline Protestant churches, we place greater emphasis on the message than the ‘liturgy’ which proceeds it in Evangelical churches, and we do sometimes pray that through the teaching of the word, ‘we will leave here different than when we came in.’ So we need to preach for change.

But we also have to understand that this sometimes takes place over time. Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

For those reading this, ask yourself: What was last Sunday’s sermon about at the gathering you attended? Some might have an answer; many might have forgotten.

8) I believe Andy Stanley crafts his sermons with the criticism anticipated.

There are times I’ve listened to a North Point sermon and it has struck me that Andy is saying something in a certain way in anticipation of criticism or misunderstanding. Obviously no one wants this. He works to make identification with conservative Evangelicalism, while speaking its truths to those who are new to the doctrinal and theological concepts.

Thankfully, the ministry that I believe God has raised up at North Point has operated in such a way that many of the complaints and accusations brought against other large churches just don’t stick; in fact their Christian Education program has been a model for churches around the world and their track record on charitable giving has been exemplary.

That people miss these obvious signals and forge ahead with criticism I believe says more about the critics than the one being targeted. The survival of many ‘watchdog’ or ‘discernment’ ministries hinges on always having fresh targets and their followers thrive on all the negative messaging.

All this to say, I encourage you to check out the series Brand New at the website brandnewseries.org .

 

 

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