Thinking Out Loud

May 15, 2015

Keeping Your Church’s Energy Level High Will Cost You

Rarely do I repost an article in full. But this one really needs to be seen by a variety of people in various aspects of ministry in the contemporary Evangelical church.  I do hope you’ll send author Brady Boyd some stats love by clicking through and reading it at his blog. Click the title below:

The Price We Pay for Exciting

 by Brady Boyd

Have you ever sat and watched an entire baseball game on TV? I mean, from the first pitch to the last out?

Brady BoydReally?

Baseball on TV is boring. There, I said it. I mean it, too. I will not apologize.

I love baseball. I played baseball. I was the third baseman for my high school team that won the state championship.

The Grand Old Game limps along when viewed through lenses because it was meant to be watched in a stadium or park while eating hot dogs, sitting on bleachers in the middle of the summer. Baseball is rhythmic and filled with strategic moves by managers and players. Each pitch can be scrutinized and every at-bat has subtle nuances. There is a plenitude of secret signs and pregnant pauses. But, it’s still boring to watch on TV.

That’s why I wait for the highlights on TV each night. The miracle of sport’s television allows a three-hour pastime to be condensed into 30-seconds of the best parts. I see all the home runs, the key strikeouts, the controversial plays at the plate without having to watch the entire game. If all we studied were the highlights, we would think baseball is the wonder of all sports, certainly made for live TV. It was not.

Church was not created for TV, either. The activity of discipling people from spiritual infancy to maturity is rarely exciting. In fact, it can be quite mundane. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that church should be exciting, made for TV, full of buzz and emotional fervor. There are certainly zenith moments like baptisms, weddings, baby dedications and encountering the Holy Spirit through prayer and worship. Stirring stuff, for sure. Other things like fasting, lingering intercession, hospital visits, unhurried conversations with grieving widows, and bringing food to a sick family are not as electric.

Jesus called us sheep, not lions, bears or race horses.  Have you ever watched a shepherd with his flock in a field? It does not qualify as thrilling cinema. Sure, there may be predators that sometimes need to be thwarted and occasionally, the shepherd will have to hurry his flock into a shelter when a storm surprises them.  Most days, though, the sheep eat grass, drink water, and nap while the shepherd stands in the shade nearby.

In my vocation as pastor, most of my work would miss the cut for the 30-seconds of late-night highlights. I doubt most shepherds see their work as scintillating, but it is indeed proficient. In fact, skilled shepherds tend to avoid rushing their sheep to distant pastures or exciting the flock with loud noises. Sheep do best in stable, secure environs. There is a steep price to pay for constant excitement.

Recently, I was speaking at a leader’s conference in the Los Angeles area. My message was about sustainable rhythms for healthy ministry, taken from lessons I have learned the hard way. As soon as I finished, a young woman approached me with tears in her eyes. Her pastor had told her and the team that he was going to have an exciting, growing church, which meant everyone had to give 110%. He told them if they could not keep up with him, they could all be easily replaced.

She wanted to be a part of the weekly highlight reels, so she tried to maintain the insane pace. Predictably, she failed and was left in the ditch of ministry with many others. She was hurt because church life was not about the sheep flourishing anymore, it was about creating a false sense of excitement that simply was not sustainable. Her ambitious Senior Pastor is now out of ministry altogether, burned out for trying to run too fast for too long.

I prayed for the young leader, then reminded her that what we do is a sacred calling that should be taken seriously. We do get to be a part of some incredible highlights as God transforms people in front of us. That’s exciting stuff and should be celebrated. I also reminded her that when Jesus called his disciples, he did not tell them, “Come follow me, and keep up if you can.” He promised them hard work, sleepless nights, criticism and persecution. He also said he would be with them always, like a faithful shepherd on a long, obedient journey that would sometimes be exciting, but would always be leading people home.

April 18, 2015

Thinking Out Loud after PARSE

Link List - Out of Ur22 Months ago, an email from Skye Jethani changed things around here and forced me to raise the bar on what I was doing with the Wednesday Link Lists. He wrote,

I’m a fan of your Wednesday Link List. Not only is it helpful and concise, but I enjoy some of the wit and whimsy of your comments. I think the readers of Leadership Journal’s blog, Out of Ur, would benefit from what you’ve created. I wanted to explore the possibility of having your weekly link list published on our site in order to give it a wider audience.

Just days later, the first installment appeared at Out of Ur, later renamed PARSE.

I have always had great admiration for Christianity Today, and I wish there were space here to list the great Christian writers and leaders who have had staff positions with its various publications. I actually applied to be a columnist at Leadership Journal (their website is the parent to PARSE) in the days before the internet, and still have the rejection letter from Kevin Miller. If you’re going to be turned down, at least be turned by the best.

Out of UrI will admit that I got carried away at times. One of the lists had 38 links in it. So more recently we transitioned to a new format whereby there would be far fewer stories, much longer excerpts, and a twice weekly format that was originally envisioned as ten on Wednesday five on Saturday, but ended up being close to ten each time. I will admit that I still get carried away at times.

The biggest joy of writing for people at Leadership Journal was knowing that the material I selected was being seen by people in full time vocational ministry. It was, in its own small way, a means whereby an ordinary writer like me could be an influencer.  In an earlier lifetime, I had stepped down from a similar monthly column at Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine with the closing line, “While it’s a fine thing to write the news, I think it’s a better thing to make the news.”  (Actually, it was the dark ages, and italics had not been invented yet.)

Now I’m not so sure that was wise. Certainly, as a frustrated musician, it was hard to write of others’ successes, but this time around, in a world where everyone has a blog and is clamoring for attention, there is some honor in choosing what types of news stories and opinion pieces people see.

Working with people whose opinions and perspective on Christianity and culture resonate with me has been a blast, even if we’ve never met face to face. I can’t thank Skye Jethani enough for the opportunity, and also thank Paul Pastor, Drew Dyck and Tim Gioia for doing the legwork of making what I wrote visible to so many. 

But alas, things change, so last week I was abruptly told by Drew Dyck,

…After many years, first as “Out of Ur” then as PARSE, we will be shutting down our blog.  I’ve been incredibly grateful for the awesome job you’ve done for us. I still don’t know how you manage to track down all the relevant/interesting stories for church leaders around the web—and then do such a great job of setting them up. Anyway, with Paul Pastor gone, maintaining a multi-voice blog has been a challenge…

So as suddenly as it began, it ended.

Ironically, PARSE just won Third Place in the Blog category at an Evangelical Press Association awards night, and is also the #15 blog on the latest Top 300 list from Church Relevance. I’m not sure that dumping a relatively hot internet property like that is wise, especially when blogs are struggling to maintain readership numbers. But that’s their call.

Again, I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with a great team.

…And now we come to where I need your help. The Wednesday Link List will continue. I’m not sure about the Weekend Link List however. The question is, do you like the excerpts or would you prefer the original listing of nothing but bullet points?

Please email me via the contact page, or leave a comment right here or on Twitter.

And if you manage a Christian website that has a budget, use the contact page if you’d like to offer the Wednesday Link List a new home.

April 14, 2015

A Letter to the Pastor

Filed under: Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

The Lost Voice ProjectDear Pastor,

I know we’ve never quite gotten together as I had hoped we would, but I kinda had to write this letter to you today.

I think you are quite familiar with the work I do in the next town over, and because of that work and the nature of its environment, people tend to dump a lot of their stories — especially church stories — on me. I guess they feel it’s a safe, neutral place; a sort of ecclesiastical Switzerland.

Anyway, some of the stories are about your church, but that’s not a big deal because given the numbers, there is bound to be some restlessness and dissatisfaction out there. There are stories about several churches, though a few seem to be somehow exempt. I don’t really expect Pastors and church leaders to put a lot of stock in what the critics might have to say anymore than you would expect me to give a lot of weight to comments people leave on my blog. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore them.

But then again, I’m writing you a letter, aren’t I? So there must be something troubling me.

Here’s the deal. I don’t personally believe that people get hurt by this church or that church. But people do get hurt by people in a church. Sure, sometimes it’s about the sound system, or the parking lot, or the color of the new paint in the Fellowship Room; but more often than not it involves a fellow human. People say things and do things and while some people are thick-skinned, some people are not, and there is always going to be some hurt and wounding in any institution, especially one which operates with a volunteer army and a presupposed adherence to the highest of ethical and moral standards.

Honestly, I’ve probably done my own share of the hurting. Wait, not probably, definitely. I was on staff at a local church once and the way the story is told, I got rather firm with a student who was helping out on the sound system after a particularly mistake-filled first service, and told him we really needed it better for the second service. Apparently he was quite hurt. I’m told he didn’t come back. I don’t remember him not coming back. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot of this story; it all got told to me years later. Ouch!

My point is, a lot of the stories I get told about your place of worship come down to one person. One guy. One individual. He’s a member of your church board, or deacons, or elders or whatever you call it your denomination. He’s a bit of a one-man wrecking machine.

On the other hand, he’s probably among the people in your church you are closest to. You and your wife probably socialize with him and his wife. He probably gets things done at a board level. You can count on him for support. You can’t imagine him being cast in a negative light.

Here’s the thing: Over the course of many years, because of him, you’ve lost a lot of good people. People who, if you added them all together, had so much to give to the life of your church. We’re talking a cumulative loss that’s worth more than whatever benefit you might see from one single leader.

At the end of the day however, I can’t be more specific. It’s all just random noise from the discontented being vented to a third party. But I think that, after many years, I’m a good judge of character. I think I can discern the sincerity of those dumping their stories on me, and it resonates with my own impressions of the person in question.

I hope you can connect the dots at this point and figure out who and what.

Sincerely,

Paul.


Though the format today was different, today’s piece continues The Lost Voice Project, a continuing series of articles about people whose circumstances have resulted in their contribution to the local church being diminished; their voices not being heard.

April 8, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Fallon Easter

Featured Stories

Ten Secrets of Senior (Lead) Pastors – “Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty about our abilities to do the work we feel called to do. We intellectually know this is designed by God. It keeps us in prayer and walking by faith. But, we are human and the demands upon us and our insecurities in them can also make us question at times whether we have what it takes to do the work before us… A senior pastor’s insecurities can cause them to become overprotective of their reputation and position… The pastor too can experience loneliness…  some pastors have no true friends either inside the church or outside… Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.”

Interacting with Your Mormon Friends – “We Christians seem to have taken our worldview for granted. We are apathetic residents of a state while Mormons are passionate citizens of a nation. Many of the Christians I’ve taken to Utah are amazed by how strongly Mormons seem to resist our efforts to share the truth. That’s because we, as Christians, mistakenly think Mormons are as loosely affiliated with their religious worldview as we are with ours. That’s simply not the case… Mormons don’t easily walk away from their faith, even when they’ve discovered it’s untrue.”

On The Religious Freedom Reformation Act – “One of the drawbacks of having friends on both sides of an issue is that they bombard you with articles and stories supporting their side of the issue and this is most likely to happen in our culture on LGBT matters.  My pastor sent me, and the rest of our church, link after link explaining ‘our’ side of the issue and making it clear that ‘their’ side was not only wrong but mean.  My progressive neighbor did the same from the other point of view.  I was tempted to just forward their e-mails to the other… This is life in America today, particularly on LGBT issues.  One side yells at the other that they are ignorant of the law, and that they hate America, Christians and religious freedom.  The other side yells that the RFRA is nothing more than a hidden attempt to legalize Christian discrimination of LGBT individuals.  Everyone is talking; nobody is listening, at least not to those who differ.”

Billy Graham Statue at the U.S. Capitol – “A move is afoot to replace a statue of a racist former governor with one of evangelist Billy Graham in the U.S. Capitol building. The change would mean North Carolina is represented by two Western North Carolina notables in the National Statuary Hall. The other leader honored is former governor and Buncombe County native Zebulon Vance. General Assembly lawmakers have proposed replacing the statue of Charles Brantley Aycock… Aycock was chief spokesman for the White Supremacy Campaign when the bloody riot resulted in the overthrow of the elected local government in the only documented coup d’etat in U.S. history.”

20 Minutes into the Future – It is said that if Americans want to see their religious future, they need only look at their neighbor to the north, Canada: “You don’t need to be a churchgoer to pray. That’s one of the findings of a sweeping new poll on faith from the Angus Reid Institute, conducted in partnership with Dr. Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge. The recent survey of 3,041 Canadians showed that even as our affiliation with organized religion continues to decline we still believe — just in our own, often deeply personal, ways.” Results are presented in The National Post as a large infographic.

It’s Not Just The Marriage Part of Gay Marriage – This article dealt primarily with the impact of a shifting paradigm on homosexuality and its impact on “the Black Church.” But going beyond wedding ceremonies, invitations, cakes and flowers are a whole host of other issues which the author summarizes in a list at the end of the piece; the impact on facility rental, membership, funeral protocols, dedication of adopted children, and also the legal ramifications of any decisions on issues like these.

New App is a YouVersion Meets Instagram – “Parallel feels a lot like Instagram, but instead of filters, it has you tag your photos with biblical verses. In doing so, it attempts to make a universal text feel personal, and shareable, in the same way one might post a photo on any other social media…Unlike Instagram, Parallel seems to do away with geotagging and clear timestamps, so all the images live in a timeless and spaceless world of the biblical verses they represent—and instead of liking them, users can ‘crown’ them. The idea is that, in time, the app will populate the Bible with these photographic interpretations.”

What are Our Children Learning Spiritually? – “Far before a child can comprehend his purpose to worship God, the child learns how to worship. What happens with most parents, though, who see only the need to teach their child’s head, is that in order to teach such truths, they are willing to use almost whatever means necessary to do so. So they use puppets to teach Bible stories, never realizing that their children are learning to view biblical truth as something light and trivial. Or they use cartoons to teach moral lessons, never realizing that their children are learning to view morality as something silly or ‘adventurous.'”

The Pope Has Changed Rome Forever – The Wall Street Journal “In his two years in office, the pontiff has drawn attention for his unconventional gestures—such as personally welcoming homeless people to the Sistine Chapel last month—but those gestures matter most as signs of the radical new direction in which he seeks to lead the Catholic Church: toward his vision of the promise of Vatican II. Both the acclaim and the alarm that Francis has generated as pope have been responses to his role in the long struggle over the [Second Vatican Council]’s legacy. …Pope Francis, the first pontiff to have received holy orders after Vatican II, is very much a son of the council.”

Inside John Wesley’s Prayer Closet – From Jared Brock’s new book, A Year of Living Prayerfully: “…Wesley kept up his daily regimen by going to bed at nine o’clock and waking at four o’clock, insisting that everyone in his household do the same. He would begin his day by studying the Scriptures and praying. The room that would later become known as the “Power House of Methodism” is about the size of a modern walk-in closet, perhaps six by seven feet, with hardwood floors and a large window to let in plenty of light. When we entered Wesley’s study, I noticed a very odd, spring-mounted bouncy chair. ‘This was Wesley’s workout chair,’ the guide said. ‘For doing assisted squats.'”

Rhymes Jan 13 2014Rhymes With Orange – 1/13/14

Short Takes

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 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.

 

 

February 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Family Circus 02-22-15

First, the PARSE links for Pastor People:

Carl Trueman on Evangelicals as Johnny-Come-Latelys to Lent – “I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own… I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it…” Hmmm…

The Church and Beer Combo Meal – This time it was PBS’ turn to highlight the trend: “At Pub Theology in Washington, most believe that traditional churches are too rigid and confining… It’s estimated there are upwards of 130 church pubs in the US, many more in Europe, and that the number is growing.” But not all clergy interviewed for the story were supportive.

Debriefing the Sermon You Just Preached – Of the four points in this article, the second addresses the great vulnerability of a pastor right after speaking: “Any criticisms you hear need to be received, graciously acknowledged, and then honestly considered, but not one hour after your sermon.  Most of us who have just poured our hearts out in preaching are not at a good place to evaluate criticisms.  Always graciously receive all comments.  However, those comments that may be particularly hard or even harsh to hear are better evaluated after two good nights of sleep.  Write them down.  Leave them on your desk.  Try to forget about them until Tuesday…

New Church Construction at its Lowest Since 1967 – In a four minute audio segment, NPR looks at the house church movement. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” [Greg] Stultz says. “Where is that being done?” Furthermore, one of the groups would actually qualify as multi-site: “Three years later, Redemption now has three house churches that meet around Bristol. Once a month, they have a group service…”

Memo to Pastors: Knowing Your Audience when You Preach on Sex – “In your congregation are numerous people who have committed adultery. There are hundreds of porn addicts and fantasizers of both genders. We are not a sexually pure people. So please don’t preach like we’re riding on your high horse with you (whether or not you mean to be up there). The Bible is clear about sex and its place in marriage, and it is your job to preach it. But when you stand up there and preach like ‘we all know fornication is evil’ it shames us. When you lay low the adulterers with your scorn it shames them. And are you even thinking of those who became sexually active by force through rape or molestation? How low must they feel when you speak of the “loss of purity” like it’s a candle that was blown out?”

Revisiting the President’s Conversion Story – Within the church we call it a testimony. We call it a conversion. So when Get Religion — a website that reports on how religion is reported — looked at a recent statement by Governor Scott Walker, it also hauled out a 2007 transcript of Obama’s own description of the day he responded to the altar call: “…I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity [United Church of Christ] one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany…But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

Writing a Book for Limited Distribution – Every once in awhile, an article surfaces which is more than six months old, but would be new to many of you. So even though older things online aren’t as cool as things written yesterday, here are 5 Reasons to Write Books for Your Own Congregation.  Sample: “You know your audience. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.”

Poll Results – Not entirely scientific, but Thom Rainer asked his Twitter followers for reasons why churches today seem to be less evangelistic than in the past. Here’s some random samples: “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” “Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.” “Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.” “Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.” “Our churches have too many activities…” He grouped the many responses into a list of 15 reasons.

Rob Bell on Gay Marriage – Excerpt: “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness,” Rob Bell said. “Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.” That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?” “We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”

40 More Recommended Articles – If you’re a pastor trying to balance vocational ministry with marriage and parenting, David Murray, author of the just released book The Happy Christian has 40 online resources you don’t need to search for.

Counseling for Pastors – “The counselor assumed I was making a referral. He was surprised that I was scheduling myself. That first appointment was so healing, so fresh, so needed… In our next church board meeting I presented a proposal about the church both requiring and paying the cost of each staff member seeing a counselor at least twice that year. After a healthy discussion, they agreed.

Please remember that inclusion of items here or at PARSE does not imply endorsement.

Water into Wine Birthday Card

Short Takes

  • Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is now a multiple award-winning movie, though these may not have been the type of awards they were going for
  • …In other movie news, the creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous have a new title in the works. Check out the preview for War Room, releasing in theaters August 28th…
  • …But when the history of Christian movies is written, the one story that won’t get left out involves the classic, The Jesus Film, which has now been translated into 1,300 languages.
  • In a more detailed look at Rob and Kristen Bell’s comments on gay marriage, a response from Line of Fire host Michael L. Brown: “So, according to Rob Bell, the Church of Jesus should follow worldly culture and deny the plain teaching of God’s Word in order to be ‘relevant…’ I guess what’s trending on Twitter trumps the timeless wisdom of the living Word of the living God, I guess an emotional appeal carries far more weight than transcendent Truth.”
  • I do not, for one minute, understand what people get from reading Chris Rosebrough, even though I might agree with him on a number of issues. He recently created these faux-billboards. Some of them are funny and also quite true, but what is gained here? Yet, as the author of the piece linked here points out, people do need more discernment. (But I wouldn’t want this to be the tenor of my discernment ministry.)
  • Twitter is reading our tweets. (It’s probably in the agreement when we signed up.) So based on your Twittering, an analysis of the top 100 things we gave up for Lent.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Book-Reviewer on that… that book… which became a movie.
  • A Detroit doctor refuses to treat a baby who has two moms.
  • What to do when you don’t know what to do: Setting personal parameters for the issues that aren’t black and white.
  • This summer, Pope Francis be a plush doll from the same company that does Yankees’ pitcher Derek Jeter and the Green Lantern, Bleacher Creatures, announced just as we’re hearing that a figurine from the Playmobil toy company of Martin Luther — aka “Little Luther” — is shattering sales records.
  • KidMin Korner: Ideas for sharing St. Patrick’s Day with children.
It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, also a product.

It was a funny joke, and now, apparently, it is also a product.

February 21, 2015

Weekend Link List

Pete Wilson is one committed pastor.  Here’s what he did this week to create a sermon illustration:

Now on to your weekend reading:

I don’t usually write an introduction to the news and opinion selections here, but I wanted to say that while it’s not represented in these pieces, it’s difficult to ignore what CNN called “Religion’s Week From Hell.” Our thoughts are with the brothers and sisters worldwide and their families who have experienced horrible atrocities committed against them simply for being Christians. It’s hard to find words.  “…We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…” (Rom 8:26 NIV)

Must Read: Christian Moms of LGBT Kids Speak Out – “This week…took me to one of the most sacred spaces yet; a private online support group for a couple hundred Christian moms of LGBT children. Each day they gather virtually, to share a unique, incredibly difficult journey. I was there as a temporary guest, to be a resource for those present; to answer questions, and to encourage them in any way that I could. During my three days with these amazing women, I was incredibly moved by their honesty, their vulnerability, their thoughtfulness, their strength, and most of all, their deep and abiding faith. It was inspiring and humbling… Knowing they were safe to speak honestly in anonymity, I asked these moms of LGBT children one simple question: ‘What do you want Christians and church leaders to know about you, your kids, and your family?'”

Maximizing a Snow Day – I know, we should have had this at the start of the week. “My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.” Sample: “Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time?” Seven short suggestions to keep on file.

The Scriptures in Their Own Place and Time – Because of my interest in John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, I was interested to see what reviewers said about his new release (co-authored with D. Brent Sandy), The Lost World of Scripture. (I guess this is a brand now!) One reviewer explains, “The primary emphasis in the book regards the distinction between literary production in a hearing-dominant world and literary production in a text-dominant world.” Another review quotes, “If we question the continued sufficiency of the term inerrancy, it is not that we now admit that the Bible has errors. It is rather that the term inerrancy may no longer be clear enough, strong enough or nuanced enough to carry the weight with which it has traditionally been encumbered…If the term inerrancy, however, has become diminished in rhetorical power and specificity, it no longer serves as adequately to define our convictions about the robust authority of Scripture.”

Leadership Library – Something completely different this weekend, a book list. “Churches can’t say they don’t have resources for effecting change. …33 books that help you do just that. All have something helpful, but I have bulleted ones that have stirred my passion for change.How many of these do you own?

The US Has Testamints, The UK Has The Real Easter Easter Egg – “When in 2010 a team of Christians decided to launch a chocolate egg that contained the authentic message of Easter – and which also used high-quality Fair Trade chocolate and gave away a hefty portion of their profits to charity – it was met with a complete lack of interest by mainstream retailers. The Meaningful Chocolate Company might have had great chocolate and a noble ethic, but their religious meaning didn’t sit too well alongside Lindt bunnies and Chocolate Krispie chicks. So the company turned directly to churches and church schools, and received an overwhelming response.” Now some of the region’s top retailers realize they made a mistake.

Giving Up Lent for Lent – “God has called me, and you, into ministry to serve God. Not to have a paying job, not to pay back our seminary loans, not to create the programs we’ve dreamed of. No. We’ve been called into ministry because God called us and we said yes. At least, that’s my story. I was thirteen years old, and I felt God’s call to ministry. Some days I lose sight of that. I am frustrated at a board meeting or sitting at a blank screen trying to type a sermon, or looking at the decreasing funds and wondering if they can afford to pay me in the next few months, but I need to go back and remember, I am in this because I said yes to God.”

They Sure Get a Lot of Press Coverage – A UK Christian magazine is the latest to devote a cover story to Christian rap music. “I loved the music and I loved the culture, but as I became more of a fanatic I realized that most of the content stood against everything that I stood for. The glorification of drugs, money and misogyny never sat well with me, not to mention the bad language. Back then, clean versions of records were few and far between, so I found myself rapping along but taking a deep breath of silence whenever a swear word appeared. That all changed one day while I was watching a Christian TV channel…”

Bobby Schuller’s Two Churches to Merge into One – I kept thinking I’d heard this story before; it’s reminiscent of the situation where Tullian Tchividjian assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge and the church merged with New City Presbyterian, which he had founded. “Tree of Life Community church, founded by the Rev. Bobby Schuller, will merge into Shepherd’s Grove church, home of Crystal Cathedral Ministries and the Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller television program, on March 1. Members of both congregations approved the consolidation last month. Schuller had pastored the two churches since assuming leadership of Shepherd’s Grove in January 2014. ‘This move is a natural progression of what we feel God wants to do with our ministries,’ said Schuller. ‘The transition from Crystal Cathedral to where we are now was seamless, and the Hour of Power continues to grow and reach more people with the gospel.'”


This was from the Twitter feed of Unvirtuous Abbey:

Honestly, we have no idea what's going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, "For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. "

Honestly, we have no idea what’s going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, “For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. “

 

 

 

 

 

February 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Morality in the 21st Century

Morality in the 21st Century

 

  • Mama Mea Culpa? – Ravi Zacharias on President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast: “For those who did not hear the talk, it is sufficient to say that it was the most ill-advised and poorly chosen reprimand ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. I have been to several and have never, ever heard such absence of wisdom in a setting such as this…Citing the Crusades, he used the single most inflammatory word he could have with which to feed the insatiable rage of the extremists. That is exactly what they want to hear…
  • When You’ve Lost the Calvinists, You’ve Lost the Battle – Justin Taylor at no less than The Gospel Coalition is not on-side with ‘literal’ six day creationism: “It is commonly suggested that this is such a “plain reading” of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors…So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation…I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons…”  (Of course, not everyone agreed.)
  • When It’s Time for a Time Out – A look at what it means to be “disqualified from ministry” and the related issue of restoration. “My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than denying Christ [or] adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice.”
  • If a First Century Christian Time Traveled to Your Church – “If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel…If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.”
  • Essay of the Week: What Makes a Movie/CD Christian? – “[William Romanowski] argues, when [Amy] Grant began to abandon explicitly Christian lyrics in favor of ones focused on romance, many Christians became uneasy and were forced to reconsider their paradigm for Christian art. Was Amy Grant enough of a Christian singer? The fact that Grant resisted easy categorization prompted discussion and debate. She defied the strict sacred/secular bifurcation. Of course, the only difference between Christian Grant and secular Grant was the lyrics. Christian art, the logic went, is Christian art only if it explicitly communicates its Christian-ness.”
  • Reinventing The Christian Bookstore – Even as the Family Christian bookstore chain enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a former university textbook store has been re-purposed as a center for the Christian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba that is part retail, part library and includes many other parts: “Materials from the lending library, owned and operated by Mennonite Church Canada, sit in the middle of the spacious store, with catalogue stickers indicating the items are for loan, not for sale…” The university president adds, “We didn’t want to build only a library, but we wanted to build a public gathering place.”
  • Missing the Moment – We’ve all seen the pictures where people are so busy with their smartphones they miss something awesome taking place right next to them. Tyler Blanski addressed this and many other social media challenges in a November article that we just discovered: “…Mixing social media with daily life diminishes daily life. When I’m with my son, I want him to be able to take for granted that I am there. And no matter how often I might look up from my phone, if our time together is material for social media, I will never be more than half there. I want him to grow up in a home that is a safe haven, not a stage.”
  • Lost in Translation? – The NIV, ESV, Amplified, KJV and several others get together for a dinner party. (I hesitated to title this link, ‘If Translations Could Speak.’) A great premise if you’ve always wondered what they all think of each other. [NIV to ESV] “Look, I know you’re the new kid on the block, and that a bunch of pastors are all like, ‘Rah, rah, ESV, our study Bible can beat up your study Bible.’ But just because you’re new and polished doesn’t mean you’re better. Some of us have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of things.”
  • The Vanity and Toxicity of Conversation Toppers: “We may not realize it, but there is an art to making good conversation. Such artistry is not simply the goal of talk show hosts and salesmen but should be something that each one of us practices, especially those who serve as pastors.”
  • One for the Road – Next Sunday’s worship: Looking for something new that is both hymn-like and chorus-like and also lyrically deep? You could do this song with a driving rhythm section or a classically trained choir.

Short Takes:

Sometimes preachers talk about people being "too busy for God..." I found it interesting that in December, when we get busy, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably. When things get hectic, we do put spiritual disciplines on the back burner.

Sometimes preachers talk about people being “too busy for God…” I found it interesting that in December, when we get hectic, readership at Christianity 201 drops noticeably; some of us do tend to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner at busy times.

February 15, 2015

Weekend Link List

Crossing the Red Sea - 21st Century Edition

Crossing the Red Sea – 21st Century Edition

Some really good story teasers here; pick a few and click through to read…

  • Paying the Price of Criticizing Your Church – Byron King, who is what we would call a district superintendent in the Mormon Church, has informed popular Mormon podcast John Dehlin that he is no longer part of the LDS church: “‘I acknowledge your right to criticize the Church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause,’ King writes in the letter. ‘But you do not have the right to remain a member of the Church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that Church teachings are in error.’ In addition to the charges listed in the letter, Dehlin claims he’s being targeted for expressing public support for same-sex marriages, and the ordination of women.”
  • Sermon Feedback in Real Time – “Whatever your background, most communicators…enjoy having people in the audience provide feedback… Verbal call and response feedback. Responding in the moment… [S]ome of you that are immediately thinking if anyone spoke up during our Sunday services that they would be immediately removed… Now in the church I group up in, there were only a few folks who had ‘permission’ to respond to the sermon on a Sunday morning, and they usually went with the traditional  ‘Amen’ or ‘Hallelujah…'” What follows this introduction is a wild and wacky list of 50 alternative words or phrases you can use to encourage the person up front. (Or throw him or her completely off their game.)
  • The Pendulum Swing of Ministry – “1. I’m doing an awesome job vs. I’m doing an awful job. 2. I’m completely overwhelmed vs. I’m so bored 3. Things are going great personally vs. I’m in the ditch. 4. I love the church vs. I’m so frustrated with the church. 5. Micromanagement vs. Abdication.” “Knowing the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership can help you manage the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership.”
  • Proof-texting the Quran – “Instead of taking the time to actually read the Quran ourselves and listen to faithful Muslims tell us what their faith is actually about, we’ve allowed ourselves to buy into the hate-filled lies of fear-mongers on the Internet, cable news, talk radio, and even the pulpit. We cling to the cherry picked verses they throw out from a book they’ve never read and rally around the converted outliers they parade out to confirm our suspicions of a secret Muslim conspiracy to take over the world.”
  • Anatomy of a Transition – “…The all-white church moved to its current location in a mostly white neighborhood in the early 80s — and its new neighborhood began to change. In addition to a racial change, the neighborhood’s major employers moved to other places. And we realized we needed to bring in younger, more diverse members to help our church thrive. Our church had to make big changes or die…While our diversity is increasing, we must continue efforts to reflect the racial makeup of our neighborhood. But after much prayer, strong lay leadership and a willingness by many to be courageous, change has come… We have made the change from survival mode to the hope of thriving.”
  • A Different Take on Free Will – A book review: “I also wonder if [author Vincent] Bugliosi has thought about what the elimination of free will would accomplish. This of course would not be difficult for God to do. He would simply reoccupy the space He has created between us and Him and would force us to do His will. Whatever God wished to do with us, whatever task He had in mind, we would simply do – without complaining, without resisting, without evading. We would be, in effect, machines. If God ever does listen to Bugliosi and grants this wish, I certainly hope that He also eliminates our self-awareness. I can think of no worse fate than to spend endless time being controlled, directed, adjusted, worked – totally devoid of any ability to plan or to choose or to accomplish.”
  • Christian Fiction Sales Down 15% – Publishers Weekly reports the drop in one particular category of Christian book sales, “Many see what [Tyndale’s Karen] Watson calls ‘a winnowing away’ of Christian houses publishing fiction as part of the reason for the drop in sales. Moody Publishing’s River North imprint moved from 8-12 releases in 2013 to 3-5 in 2014. Abingdon Press ‘paused’ in acquiring fiction in August 2014, pulling back from its 25-35 fiction titles per year; and B&H Publishing Group ‘realigned’ its fiction strategy to only publish novels tied to brands such as B&H Films or other cross-platform initiatives.” But the article stresses that the publishers are “not in panic mode.”
  • Describing Your Dream Church – “Talking about one’s “dream church” is–increasingly, I’ve come to think–an exercise in not only futility but flat-out gospel denial. The church does not exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. If anything it exists to destabilize such things. The church should draw us out of the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship. It should jostle us awake to the reality that comfort is one of the greatest obstacles to growth. The two years I’ve attended my current church have been difficult and full of discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching two years of my life.”
  • When a Social Media ‘Friend’ DiesHow do you mourn someone you only knew as an idea?” Right there, you may disagree with the premise. The article continues, “I will experience more death than my parents, because I know more people than my parents. People I haven’t given any thought to in years, people who – for all generations before mine – would have simply slipped out of mind, can remain on my social radar simply because there they are, archived. Here, look: a wedding album. There: a birthday reminder. And inevitably, at some point: a death.”
  • Atheist Reaps Huge Profit from Bible App – “A self-professed atheist is reportedly making over $100,000 a year selling a Bible app that he designed… Trevor McKendrick found a gap in the app market for a Spanish translation of the Bible and made the app for about $500. He now makes about $6,000 a month for his app and has added an audio version as well. The Mormon-raised app designer said that he feels guilty about profiting from a book that he believes to be a work of fiction.”

Short Takes

 

Literal Bible

 

Inclusion of stories here does not imply endorsement.

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