Thinking Out Loud

April 26, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber join Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live two weekends back.

Wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out they were related?

An observation from our friend Shane Claiborne

In addition to what you see here each week, I’ve recently updated the blogroll on the right hand side of the page. I’m generally looking to keep blogs which have been active within the preceding 30 days. It’s an ongoing process and suggestions are welcomed. Also, if you find yourself lost somewhere without your computer bookmarks, make your way to Thinking Out Loud and use our news, podcast and blog links as a portal to some great sites.

This week a slightly shorter list due to time constraints and the Canadian Income Tax Deadline on April 30th. 

Oh… one more thing: A big shout-out to Michael and Jenine in North Dakota. Thanks for your note this week!

Is it real or just a meme? “The Newest Testament” first came to my attention when Zach Hunt tweeted one of the covers

April 22, 2017

“We Know Where You Live”

front_gate

Thanks to the internet there are no secrets anymore. A few years ago I briefly turned my attention to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and were building. With Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch of the planet, major Christian authors and church leaders have difficulty concealing their personal residences.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

I’m not sure what happened to that campus, but we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate which even two months ago was being updated.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion. I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here.

Pictured: Gated community in Atlanta, GA

April 19, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Click the image for the story behind today’s lead picture. Welcome to today’s WLL, which a Tuesday night internet outage and the season finale of Trial and Error couldn’t stop.

Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta didn’t care for these kids acting out the crucifixion, calling it “Jesus Torture Cosplay.” Click the image to read his comments.

Silly Songs With Larry? This is the lower left quadrant of a larger March Madness parody called March Gladness, but then the blog writer simply stopped posting. (Click the image to see it all.) Turns out Matthew Pierce had one of these going as well and that one went the distance.

April 17, 2017

Willow Creek Continues to Rewrite the Playbook for Weekend Services

Two weeks ago Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs had an “Authors Weekend.” Teaching pastor Steve Carter interviewed Anne Lamott and then went into an another exchange with Lee Strobel, the latter having been a former Willow staff member. (Later in the week Josh McDowell visited on Wednesday night.) You can watch those interviews at this link.

Doing an interview in a church service can be a hit or miss proposition. Especially if it is replacing a traditional teaching segment aka sermon. Furthermore, the reaction to any particular guest is going to be subjective. Just a week or two earlier, Willow hosted Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. That one didn’t resonate with me so much.

But watching Carter talk with Lamott and later Strobel, I realized what they are doing has some broader implications.

First, I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

Second, I have for a long time advocated teaching modules rather than a single focus half hour. A few of us are old enough to remember when NBC introduced the show Real People. Hailed as the first magazine format program — though I’m not sure it predated 60 Minutes — this variety-meets-information type of programming is now widely used. I always thought that the ideal solution in church would be to break up the 30 minutes into three 10 minute segments, separated by music, announcements, or scripture readings. One module might be topical. One might be exegetical. Or if you prefer, one might be light while one might go deeper. One might deal with family life. One might delve into an obscure Old Testament character. (If that last one sounds boring, remember, we’re talking ten minutes here. You don’t have time to lose people!)

What Willow and Carter did that Sunday met these objectives in the ways that follow, but I also want to add one extra point.

The interview was a nice alternative to a sermon. Key here was the fact that the two authors really had something to say. The aforementioned sports star was a good testimony, and she’s probably a role model for a lot of young girls — and they did have a sermon that week as well — but Strobel and Lamott brought a lot of substance to the table. There was also spontaneity, including an opportunity to text in questions. (I wasn’t there in person, but watching the Saturday night service live, I could have easily participated in this.)

The interviews would appeal to different people. Strobel’s was also a testimony, but also tied into an upcoming movie. A number key points in Christian apologetics were covered. Another aspect to this story is what happens in a marriage when one partner has crossed the line of faith and the other is hostile toward Christianity. I hadn’t read anything by Lamott but her personal, unaffected demeanor probably connected with people early in their Christian journey, with seniors, and also with women. In other words, a wide swath demographically.

The interviewer had done his homework. This was the thing that really impressed me. Steve Carter wasn’t just ‘winging it.’ He had spent some time studying both the literature and the biographies of his two guests. Willow had a point to all this, they were doing it for well considered reasons; otherwise they wouldn’t have done it at all. But if they were going to do it, they were going to do it well. (Their commitment to excellence shone through their Good Friday and Easter services this past weekend, also available online.)

Finally, a confession.

I’m a sermon guy. Yes, I just said it’s a dying art form, but I enjoy them. So it would be quite easy for me to feel disappointed I wasn’t going to get one from Willow that week. Truth is, I tuned in especially to see what Strobel would say, and because his connection as a former Willow Creek staffer made it especially interesting. Plus I’ve seen Carter and Bill Hybels do this sort of thing many times before and they aren’t exactly novices.

Can your church snag top name guests? You probably don’t have the budget, nor do they have a lot of availability. But there are probably some stories that Christian people in your community can tell better on a two-chair set than can be related from behind a podium. There are probably topics that can be presented with two members of the pastoral staff taking a tag team approach. There is probably preaching content that can be modified to suit a Q & A format, even if it’s not as spontaneous as you would like it to be. Finally, there’s possibly someone in your church who might, on a one-off Sunday, have something vital to share but would need the help of a more seasoned speaker to rein them in when they go off topic or off focus, or to simply keep the message moving.

I’m not advocating this for everyone; I’m just saying it deserves consideration.


 

 

April 12, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to the very last pop-up-free blog on the internet. Or so it seems some days. #obnoxious …Got link suggestions? Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.

Below image: The church sign prompted a comment on Reddit: “Even I think this is in poor taste! And I’m an atheist.” Another comment, “that pastor must’ve been ‘hammered.'” (So is it real or a sign generator?)

April 5, 2017

Wednesday Link List

We’re back with a whole new set of diversions and rabbit trails. As to the above picture: My wife found this “Armor of God” plush bear in a thrift shop yesterday. Fortunately, it stayed there.  By the way, she is a great help in so many ways to producing the content you enjoy here on the blog and today’s her special day. Join me in wishing her a Happy ■■th Birthday.

  • Okay, we start with a leftover from April Fool’s Day. When January went by, we thought Englewood Review of Books had forgotten the annual book cover awards — which they had, sort of — but we were wrong, sort of. Instead, they issued The Very Worst Christian Book Covers Hall of Fame.
  • You’re alone. The restaurant is full. No tables. But you can order lunch at the bar. Do you abstain from the very appearance of evil? The Bible doesn’t actually demand that.
  • A Jewish perspective on Christians holding Passover Seders: “It’s a lot like people doing a sweat lodge or sun dance that are not Native American. To me, you haven’t walked that path with that people. You’re taking the benefits without having suffered…”
  • Worth considering: 3 reasons to ban mobile devices from your small group meeting and 4 reasons to allow them
  • Britain’s National Health Service funds hospital chaplains to the tune of an estimated £25m annually, with 916 full and part time posts in 2015. With hospital budgets squeezed some are questioning their value.
  • Despite close ties to the Graham family, a Vancouver pastor was among those who could not support Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope in that city.
  • Essay of the Week: On the Church and video games. “I’ve felt an oversight in the U.S. evangelical church—regarding video games, we have largely dismissed (as harmful) or ignored (as meaningless) one of the largest cultural phenomena of the past 40 years… The pulpit, the blogosphere, and informal discussion seems to provide regular thought regarding other pervasive media types, such as movies, or fiction books, or sports, or social media. But sadly, I see a disproportionate amount of careful, nuanced thought on an industry so extensive…”
  • A fresh idea: From what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud,” Jim Thornber asks the musical question, what if it wasn’t the pastor who baptized new converts, but the people most influential in that conversion?
  • From the Archives at Mental Floss: With Passion Week approaching, here’s 15 things you need to know about DaVinci’s Last Supper
  • Problems trying to apply “The Billy Graham Rule” in 2017 where things have changed.
  • Jory Micah is a strong advocate for women in ministry. She announced this week she and her husband Luke are starting a church. Well a sort of church. Having been down this road with my wife (we planted two) I think she knows what she’s doing. Until…
  • along comes this blogger who is… like… “Ms. Micah doesn’t have time for repentance and the traditional marks of the church in her headlong rush to fashion the church into the likeness of herself.” (Ouch! That wasn’t encouraging at all.)
  • Skye Jethani finds an increasing number among the disillusioned. “I think about how often I have seen godly, well-meaning people restrained by policies, bureaucracies, budgets, or attorneys. I think about Christian ministries making decisions driven by the shadow mission of survival rather than the kingdom mission of God. And about how desperately we need leaders and institutions that will empower a new generation of Christians, but how difficult that is when the funding comes primarily from a generation with different values. I know I am not alone. I meet more like me every week.”
  • An early review of Bruxy Cavey’s new book. I’m a fan so I’ll be mentioning this often between now and May…
  • …Here’s a text sample of what Bruxy’s parishioners experience each week at The Meeting House.
  • Parenting Place: This isn’t a Christian website or writer, but I loved this account of author Reif Larsen taking his son to the airport.
  • Sometimes we’re not able to get you the ideal link to a story. Like this time. Stephen Baldwin produced a stage show: “Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross,” which based on a book by Colin Smith. That one says the DVD is ‘coming soon’ but a press release about the film version of the stage show indicates it’s available at ChristianCinema.com. But a search there yielded nothing. Anyone love a mystery?
  • Rachel Held Evans guests on the Bible for Normal People podcast where she and Peter Enns talk about sword drills and violence in the book of Judges. 51 minutes.
  • An English teacher in New York who has been assigned to 20 religious schools since 1991 was fired from a Muslim school for saying the story of Adam and Eve is a myth and showing the Muslim children a painting depicting the couple naked…
  • …Meanwhile in Australia, another clash of cultures: “A refugee who raped a ten-year-old boy has claimed he did not know sexually assaulting the child was wrong as it was ‘culturally acceptable’ in his homeland.”
  • The Environment: It’s a mall in Sweden devoted entirely to repaired or recycled items. “Products are then sorted into 14 specialty shops that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, and gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products.”
  • YMin: The $5 mission trip to the mall. The kids couldn’t spend the money on themselves.
  • Video Flashback of the Week: 2012, Candi Stanton’s Hallelujah Anyway.  Why? …
  • …Because it’s the title of Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy
  • …An interview with Anne this past weekend at Willow Creek.
  • A year later, Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith are still producing Word Matters, a podcast devoted to troublesome Bible passages.
  • Bible translation is tough going on the best of days, but chapters 3-41 in the book of Job can be somewhat tedious
  • This one is from last October, but if you’re new to the liturgical calendar, this week is a great time to jump in.
  • ♫ The Ultimate Christian Rock Quiz: I was doing fine on the first ten questions, but not so well on the last ten. See how well you know CCM.
  • Scripture make you uncomfortable? You could always try the Happy News Translation.
  • Bee of the Week: It’s not what the Hebrew letters mean, but how cool they look.
  • So…about today’s closing image: I don’t foresee this Christian products retailer opening branches in Europe or North America anytime soon, at least not under that name. (If you don’t get it, don’t worry; ignorance is bliss.) Here’s the story: “CUM Books has become a much-loved and popular name in South African homes for many years. This chain of Christian family bookshops began when six NG Kerk-boekhandel shops were bought. In 1993 CUM Books began to enter major shopping malls. The first shops were opened in Westgate and Greenacres. Since then… there are now over 40 branches countrywide and an online store.”

 

Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free faith blogging with fresh posts every day. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

March 29, 2017

Wednesday Link List

What to do with nine year’s worth of T-shirts collected in student ministry? You could make a quilt. Full story at Baptist Press; click image to link.

 

Satellite campus churches are cool, but what if one time you could get everybody together in one place? That’s what Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church did on Sunday night. Six churches. One service. First time in 21 years.

 

Time Magazine cloned one of its own iconic covers causing Sam Allberry to Tweet, “You can’t have one without the other. The more the first is denied, the more the second will disappear.” Click the image for Time’s coverage of its cover.

Welcome to another Wednesday. Not all stories included this week come with endorsement, but they’re things I felt were worth a look.

Thanks for tuning in this week. As always, no animals were injured in the preparation of this week’s link list. Your mileage may vary. Professional driver; closed course. Do not take if you are allergic to Wednesday Links.

The picture is titled, “Destiny.” The artist is unknown. Click the image for a devotional inspired by the painting.

 

Your library as fashion statement: The orange look is in. Absent for photo: The End of Me by Kyle Idleman. Any others you can think of?

March 22, 2017

Wednesday Link List

The Original Wednesday List Lynx

Welcome to this week’s list and thanks to the usual suspects for your suggestions.

This week we caught up with David Hayward aka Naked Pastor… this really speaks for itself:

Finally, when it comes to Christian music tours, what’s in a name? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction:

March 15, 2017

Wednesday Link List

For those of you who celebrate round numbers, this is Wednesday Link List #350. Our upper image and lower image today are just two of five. Fred Clark at the Patheos blog Slacktivist imagines the five points of TULIP Calvinism as a pulp noir mystery series. Click here to see all five

Also, I can’t remember if I shared this last week, but wearing my other, non-writer hat, I was interviewed for this Christianity Today news story about the bookstore biz. (My second time and with the same reporter as did the first, which was about my writing…my writing the very weekly column you’re lookin’ at!)

March 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Germany’s Bernhard Lang took to aerial photography to capture this image of the slums of Manila. Up close the image of the church would look pristine and serene, but pull back and the surrounding neighborhood paints a different picture. Click the image to read the tragic story of what happened on February 7th.

Miss it here? You can always catch it at Internet Monk’s Saturday Brunch on the weekend. (It’s okay…it works both ways! Hi, Mike and Daniel.)

“…At the most basic level, this is a classic example of a false equivalence, which itself is the basis for so many internet memes that try to equate two unrelated issues based on a shared trait. Despite being a logical fallacy, the seemingly straightforward checkmate power of the false equivalence has made it the crack cocaine of many a political debate – especially on the internet… Had even the slightest bit of effort been put into this pseudo-exegesis, its proponents would have noticed a rather inconvenient truth: according to the book of Revelation itself, the gates of heaven are never closed…” Click the image to read at source.

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