Thinking Out Loud

May 25, 2018

VBS For Adults

I would love to have been a fly on the boardroom wall at Group Publishing the first time someone said, “Why don’t we do VBS for adults?” It was one of those seminal moments in church history like the invention of numbered offering envelopes, or disposable communion cups, or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior.”

If you already have multiple VBS brands in a competitive and saturated market, you’re bound to look for new ways to ‘enlarge your territory’ and if you’re good at creating events occurring on multiple days with a variety of leadership and working from various ‘stations,’ the Fall Retreat, Winter Retreat, Spring Retreat or Summer Retreat is a church tradition apparently crying out for curriculum.

Enter “Cozy Mountain Lodge” a Winter-themed retreat in a box for women.

Cozy Mountain Lodge is a Bible-based women’s retreat program designed to help women grow in their relationship with God and develop lasting friendships with each other. Using the story of Ruth and Naomi from the book of Ruth, this retreat brings home the meaning and significance of making God our foundation.

Whisk women away to a virtual cozy mountain lodge where they’ll enjoy digging into God’s Word, uplifting worship, a time for Christian service, and wonderful relationship-building activities inviting them to participate and experience God’s story.

There’s

  • a Bible study
  • an opportunity to sing songs
  • a craft project
  • small group discussion

If this ain’t VBS, I don’t know what is!

And all things considered, the launch price for the Starter Kit — oops! That’s a VBS term — the Women’s Ministry Retreat Director’s Kit is a bargain, especially when compared with similar packages from LifeWay. Plus there are 7 sessions! That’s going to be one busy weekend.

Prefer something more Summer-y? There’s Sea Side Escape (see below).

What I found not-so-upfront in the advertising was details as to the spiritual theme of each event, if there is one. (The retreats deal with Ruth and Naomi and Sarah and Hagar respectively, but no idea where the focus lies.) Equally not easily discovered is who wrote the curriculum, or whether the “media pack” includes some DVD teaching or if your own church’s leadership is required to teach through an outline.

What I did see is this fulfilling a need. Most Women’s Ministry leaders would prefer to use something tested or proven than to simply book time at a Christian camp or conference center and rent a bus and then scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do when they get there. Better to leave it to the pros.

But hurry, because like VBS Kits, these retreats have an expiry date after which presumably there will be new ones to replace them.

Group Publishing did not solicit this article nor were they aware of it prior to publication. Neither did I receive a “Sand Dollar Scripture Pendant” from Sea Side Escape.

 

 

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September 25, 2015

Acts and Adoption: Lisa Harper’s Newest Tells Two Stories

I’m not a huge fan of plot contrivances in fiction, or some types of literary devices in non-fiction, so when it became apparent that Lisa Harper’s commentary on the Book of Acts was using the story of the adoption of her daughter as a motif, I was a little skeptical.

But in fact, author Lisa Harper really had won me over by the second chapter.

Believing Jesus - Lisa HarperBelieving Jesus: A Journey Through the Book of Acts is for certain a book about the fifth book in the New Testament, but it’s a different kind of approach, and if you can buy in to its premise, you will enjoy this immensely. So Peter, Phillip and Paul share the spotlight with Missy, a little HIV-positive girl from Haiti who has rocked the author’s world.

Granted, I’m not a frequent reader of women’s interest titles, but this is a story that offers surprises at every chapter. Not knowing much of the Women of Faith speakers, apparently this several-years-long adoption process resulted in Harper, who has reached the half-century mark in life, becoming a single mom. She’s very candid about the challenges that brings.

So how exactly does Ms. Harper bridge the 2,000 year gap between the early church and an orphanage in Haiti? The answer is: Very well. I don’t want to be the spoiler king, but this is a book like nothing else I’ve read before. What’s really happening here is that upfront you’re tracking the story of Lisa and Missy, meanwhile a solid theological lesson is sneaking in the back door. This is an author that knows her way around Bible reference materials, word-study books in particular. (Or conversely, you’re following along with the chapters in Acts and seeing touch-points of relate-ability you never considered.)

All of which to say that with Believing Jesus we have something that you could give to that woman in your church or small group that perhaps has never read a Christian book before. Maybe even one who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith. With its Facebook and Instagram pictures of the journey from Haitian orphanage to America, it’s also a great gift to a woman who has become a new parent through adoption, a single parent, or someone who has had a child later in life.


Warning: Lisa Harper’s treatment of some of the text in Acts makes Eugene Peterson sound like the KJV. (And I love it!)

January 5, 2015

Your Church Winter Retreat

My parents sent me to camp in the summers I was 13, 14 and 15; and then there was a seven-year gap before I started serving on senior staff of another camp for another four summers. At the end of the last year, I was invited to speak at yet one more camp and it was there I met my wife who was on paid staff there. We volunteered in subsequent years and our kids spent at least a week there for most of their pre-teen and teen years.

All that to say, I am a great believer in the power of camp ministry; getting people out of the city and away from comfortable, familiar surroundings and experiencing Christian community in a nature setting surrounded by aspects of creation that we miss in an urban environment. I like to feel that I write what I’m about to say with some authority or expertise, and while it applied here to a youth retreat, it also applies to similar winter camps experiences for men or women.

Basically, I was rather upset on the weekend to see a group of people who were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t that they didn’t choose a good facility, or have a good speaker booked, or (hopefully) offered the thing at a reasonable price (with assistance for those who might need it.)

No, my issue is that they went “away to camp” but basically took the church building with them. By that I mean, they brought all this:

Winter Retreat setup 1

Now then, having a great sound and lighting system is part of how this youth group rolls. I’ve actually been able to slip into a couple of their meetings a few years back — they were meeting at an abandoned night club at that point — and they create an environment that high school students and college/career love to attend, long-term hearing damage notwithstanding.

I would also suspect a handful of the kids invited school friends, and it was important to have a decent band creating lots of worship energy, so that those friends might want to attend something back at the church in subsequent weeks.

But this was a retreat, a time away in the outdoors. And most of the worship bands I know are quite capable of doing a very powerful acoustic set.

I think it’s important in a situation like this to play to the surroundings. With the pine trees, the snow, the rustic cabins, etc., you’ve got a hot element to offer so why compete with that with another element?

My suggestion would be that once you’ve contracted for the accommodation (food and lodging) and which outdoor sports facilities you plan to utilize, the next step is to absorb the expertise and wisdom of the camp’s or retreat center’s staff, and ask them questions like, “What have other groups done here?”

Furthermore, I would suggest that you not only leave the building behind, but in terms of the actual spiritual emphasis time leave the format behind. Exploit the natural environment of the place where your group finds itself.

 

November 14, 2012

Wednesday Link List

These are some of the pages my browser history tells me I visited…

  • Married? So what about other opposite sex friendships? Here’s an answer you may or may not like. Check out the fifth video in this collection at Parchment and Pen. And the other videos, too.
  • An update from Heaven is for Real co-author and dad Todd Burpo on how life has changed, how it’s the same, and the movie version of the book.  
  • A longtime Baptist minister was beaten to death inside his church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Rachel Held Evans responds — at length — to Kathy Keller in particular and others in general on accurate Biblical interpretation as it affects her controversial new book. 
  • Martyr’s Prayer is a CD that is also available as a live concert featuring the music of Michael Glen Bell and Duane W. H. Arnold with guests, Phil Keaggy, Glenn Kaiser, Jennifer Knapp, Randy Stonehill, Kemper Crabb, Margaret Becker and others. Learn more here.
  • The picture at right represents my wife’s contribution to this week’s links. Click the image for source.
  • The link you’ll be forwarding to your friends: Someone takes a hidden camera inside Mormon Temple rituals.
  • Go deep: How the belief in annhiliationism diminishes the gospel message.
  • Bookmark this for later: Tyler Braun offers ten things to say to people who are mourning.
  • Another new video from Worship House Media: Check out every Christian cliché you’ve ever heard at Stuff Christians Say..
  • Tony Jones considers Shane Hipps a friend, so his brief review of Selling Water By The River is somewhat telling.
  • Tobymac opener Jamie Grace may be the world’s only musician with Tourette syndrome, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, echolalia, anxiety disorder — and a Grammy nomination. Read the interview.
  • Christianity Today is re-launching the Today’s Christian Woman brand.
  • Congratulations to Canada’s oldest gospel choir, The Toronto Mass Choir, on 25 years of making a joyful noise.
  • A year ago we visited The Likeable Bible — all your favorite verses to be sure — and a year later it’s still online.
  • Retro link to September: John Ortberg looks at the unparalleled life of Jesus in an excerpt from Who Is This Man?

If you’re a Wednesday-only visitor here, be sure to check out the Weekend Link List from Saturday.

September 12, 2012

Wednesday Link List

It’s been awhile since we included a Naked Pastor cartoon; click the image to read more.

 

December 21, 2010

Joyce Meyer/Beth Moore Piece is this Blog’s #1 Post for 2010

On that penultimate day in January when I posted an article about Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, I had no idea that months later, people would still be seeking out the pictures of the house where Joyce lives, which appears to be the main reason “Who Exactly Is Teaching The Women in Your Church” is the #1 post at Thinking Out Loud for 2010.

I have no regrets posting those pictures.    I don’t know if readers in the Christian blogosphere would have uncovered the work of a local journalist, and I thought that the photos should be more public.   I believe that while all Christians are accountable to God, people in ministry enter a public life not unlike politicians, which demands greater accountability.

James 3: 1-2a, The Message Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths.

And then there was this comment, posted just today by Ryan, which brings much of this into focus:

Wow, I can’t believe people here are bashing the post.  It’s a simple concept that this is portraying.

Let me give you a scenario:  I’m asking YOU for your hard earned-limited money so I can promote the work of God say like, going to a third world country to help out some folks and buy food to take over there, plus to maintain the food supply to adequately feed them…and lets add to the cause of building an orphanage in Capetown, Africa.  I do that right? I do what’s promised and I can show proof.  However, if I’m living in a 20-million dollar mansion and/or driving around in a flashy expensive 7 digit car and/or flying around in my G6-I guess the real question is do I need your money which could go towards a more needing facilitator?

I’m going to be a dentist and all I can think about is what can I do more?  Not what can I get more of?  With me, the question is how many more mouths could I feed rather than living a lavish lifestyle on this temporary earth?

Which matters more to God? The acres I own or the acres I sacrificed to own? Doesn’t God say all these things will pass away? So why the need to own beyond what is necessary?

I’m not bashing anyone just stating facts and what posses a threat to what we are really called to do (be Gods hands and feet to the least of these)?   If I wasn’t a Christian I would dismiss all the good works that these people have done by the base of the $$$$ materialistic things they posses.

These things use to be important to me till I went on a mission trip. Changed my whole life and where I wanted a Lamborghini – big house – fancy car – maid service – everything that MY money could buy;  I would rather build a church and orphanage somewhere or do something that helps someone. You fill in the blank… They said this trip will mess up your life and it did, but in a GOOD way.

…I used to believe in the whole famous “Kingdom Prosperity” until God changed my heart.  Why are you giving?  To get something back?  So, on the pretenses of “if” – but only if I get something back I will give.  That’s the only reason why you give?  Your heart is in the wrong place.  Did Jesus die (give) his life in the expectancy of (getting) your life in return?  Nope, it was by choice.  He knew he would be denied by many, but still GAVE his life without the need to “GET”.  We are to be Christ “like” so that means to give without the expectancy of a return.

If you haven’t already, you can read the original post and comments here.   I’m going to close comments on this page so that additional responses may be added to the original piece.

March 25, 2010

A Sure Cure for Complaining



From Our Journey devotional

This reading by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

True story:  A church group from New Bern, North Carolina, had traveled to the Caribbean on a mission trip.   During this particular trip, their host took them to visit a leper colony on the island of Tobago.   While there, they held a worship service in the campus chapel.   As you can imagine, the sight of emaciated lepers filing into their seats on the bare pews bore deeply into the minds and memories of each visitor to this unaccustomed scene.

But no memory left its mark like this one:

When the pastor announced, “We have time for one more hymn.  Does anyone have a favorite?” he noticed a lone patient seated awkwardly on the back row, facing away from the front.   At this final call for hymn requests, with great effort, the woman slowly turned her body in the pastor’s direction.

“Body” would perhaps be a generous description of what remained of hers.  No nose.  No lips.  Just bare teeth, askew within a chalky skull.  She raised her bony nub of an arm (no hand) to see if she might be called on to appeal for her favorite song to be sung.   Her teeth moved to the croaky rhythm of her voice as she said, “Could we sing, ‘Count Your Many Blessings‘?”

The pastor stumbled out of the pulpit, out the door, and into the adjoining yard, tears of holy conviction raining down on his face.   One of the traveling party rushed to fill his place, arguably the most “unblessed” of any spot in the universe.

A friend hustled outside, put his arm around the sobbing pastor, and consolingly said, “I’ll bet you’ll never be able to sing that song again, will you?”

“Yeah, I’ll sing it,” the pastor answered, “but never the same way, ever again.”

Leave it to a grotesquely deformed leper to remind us that grateful people are characterized by grateful words, while ungrateful people are giving to griping, complaining, murmuring, whining.

Some grumble at why God put thorns on roses, while others wisely notice — with awe and gratitude — that God has put roses among thorns.   Hear what people are saying when they talk about the everyday events of their lives, and you’ll see in an instant the difference between gratitude and ingratitude.

“You are my God and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Ps. 118: 28-29 ESV

January 30, 2010

Who Exactly Is Teaching The Women in Your Church?

Other bloggers can talk all they want about John Piper, Scot McKnight, Tim Keller, Francis Chan,  etc., but I work in a Christian bookstore and in that environment, only one name mattered this week: Beth Moore.    Her So Long Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend To Us (Tyndale, 2010) is out in hardcover at $24.99 US this month and has captured the top spot on a couple of the Spring Arbor overnight Top 100 charts this week.

Before going further, I have to ask:  What’s with the United States and all their hardcover releases?   I thought y’all were in the middle of an economic downturn?

Okay, the question is rhetorical.   When it comes to Beth Moore, money is no object.   Almost all her book titles have released in hardcover, a situation she shares with her slightly more charismatic friend, Joyce Meyer.   Neither one of these women have any problem sucking money out of the pockets of their fans.

In fairness though, while Meyer may not be able to control everything her publisher does with her hardcovers, she apparently does give away many of her teaching DVDs and CDs to ministry organization.

With Moore, the commercialism is more overt.   When Moore isn’t writing general book titles for publishers such as Tyndale, she’s producing another small group Bible study for Lifeway.    I gotta be honest here, I have a hard time even typing Lifeway into a sentence, and I just about retch saying it out loud.

Lifeway is the most ingenious money sucking device ever invented by Baptists, and trust me, they’ve invented several.    My anger knows no bounds in this, but fortunately it’s righteous anger, so I can rationalize it in large amounts.

Here’s how the scam works:   Lifeway, a producer of dated Sunday School curriculum decided long ago that there was far more money in delineating its non-dated adult small group material as curriculum also, and sells it to distributors at what is called a short-discount.    Your favorite Christian bookstore or online vendor is simply not making a lot of money on it.   So who is?

Often, such as in the case of church choral and orchestral product, or certain esoteric Bible translation materials, the discount is shortened to keep the price affordable.    But with many of Moore’s DVD teaching sets retailing at $250 US, that simply isn’t the case here.

Years ago, Serendipity House held back products from distribution — selling them only through their own system — to cover development costs.   That’s not the case here, either.   The retail prices of the study guides — almost always $19 US and coyly termed “member books” — usually cost participants twice the price of any other DVD-related participant guides and more than cover any possible development costs.

But the price is minor when you factor in the volume.   Moore and Lifeway together are selling thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of these things.   The Lifeway anchor store we visited in Nashville had a staff member assigned solely to this one aisle of product, and when he went to lunch someone else covered for him.   The appetite of Christian women’s groups for Beth Moore knows no bounds;  not denominationally and not geographically.    James MacDonald, who won’t let the wives of any of his staff members do anything other than be stay at home housewives, included her on his Downpour tour.    She’s ubiquitous; able to boldly go where no woman has gone before and command fees that no one has ever charged before.

And what qualifies this person who is teaching our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and girlfriends?

She has a degree in political science.

Okay, let’s be fair,  she also has an honorary doctorate in humanities from Howard Payne University (no I haven’t heard of it, either) a Baptist (surprise) university located in Brownwood, Texas (surprise) whose basketball team won a national championship in 1957.   According to Wikipedia she went to a Biblical doctrine class (whoo hoo) and then started a women’s Bible study that grew to over 2,000.    But when it comes to earned education, their report stops with this:

She has a degree in political science.

Joyce Meyer?   She claims an earned degree from the non-accredited Life Christian University, and also has an honorary degree from ORU.   She doesn’t have $250 DVD teaching series, nor do her various publishers and DVD creators stiff Christian bookstores with a short discount.   And I’m willing to give her points for growing up in adversity and having attended the school of hard knocks.

But the private jet always comes up in conversation.   You gotta be careful here, however, since the counter argument is always to look at the places she travels in a year and then compare the cost (and time) involved in commercial flights.     I’m willing to let her have the thing.

I’m not so willing to concede on the luxury homes or the lifestyle that goes with them, regardless of how much money she gives away.   There are casinos which payout 94% of all they take in.   That’s nice.   It’s the 6% that bothers me.  Check out this estate plan:

Here’s the extended photo caption for this picture by Robert Cohen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Joyce Meyer Ministries bought these 5 homes for Meyer and her family. The Ministry pays all expenses, including landscaping and lawn care, property taxes and rehab work. Meyer, her husband and each of their four married children live in the homes, free of charge.”

  • (1) Principal Residence of David and Joyce Meyer
    Bought: April 27th, 1999
    Purchase Price: About $795,000
    Square Footage: 10,000
    Cost of Improvements: $1.1 Million
    Features: 6 Bedrooms, 5 Bathrooms, Gold Putting Green, Swimming pool, 8 Car Heated and Cooled Garage, Guest House with 2 more bedrooms, Gazebo.
  • (2) Residence of: Daughter, Sandra McCollom and her husband Steve
    Bought: February 12, 2002
    Purchase Price: $400,000
    Square Footage: About 5,000
    Cost of Improvements: About $250,000
    Features: 4 Bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half Bathrooms, All-Seasons room, Prayer Room, Media Center and a Home Office.
  • (3)Residence of: Son, David Meyer and his wife Joy Meyer.
    Bought: June 18, 2001Purchase Price: $725,000
    Square Footage: 4,000
    Cost of Improvements: Unknown
    Features: 2 Story Colonial, 4 Bedrooms, 2 1/2 Bathrooms, 2 Garages and a Utility Shed
  • (4) Residence of: Daughter, Laura Holtzmann and her husband Doug
    Bought: March 7, 2001
    Purchase Price: $350,000
    Square Footage: 2,358
    Cost of Improvements: $3,000
    Features: 3 Bedrooms, 2 Bathrooms with a Fireplace.
  • (5) Residence of: Son, Dan Meyer and his wife Charity
    Bought: Mar 13, 2000
    Purchase Price: About 200,000
    Square Footage: About 2,000
    Cost of Improvements: $33,000
    Features: Brick Ranch With Full Finished Basement
  • [Read more here] (Last updated 1.11.09)

    Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.   Here’s some alternatives for you to consider:  Donna Partow, Luci Swindoll, Elizabeth George, Thelma Wells, Lysa TerKeurst, Liz Curtis Higgs, Shaunti Feldhahn, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Stasi Eldredge, Lisa Bevere, Stormie Omartian, Jill Briscoe, and the list goes on and on.  (DVD and/or workbooks are available for study material for the majority of these authors; all at lower cost than the aforementioned Ms. Moore.)

    In conclusion, Moore and Meyer are teachers that lead and inspire the women in many, many churches; and many women either dream or consciously want to emulate Meyer or Moore.   In Moore’s case, a denomination holding solidly to the premise that women should not pastor (see link below) has no problem ceding the responsibility for much teaching to a woman whose only earned degree is in political science.   In Meyer’s case, it’s often both men and women who enjoy her teaching, while she herself enjoys a personal life of excess.

    Related article in this blog:  Lifeway Reveals Its Total Hypocrisy – 09/28/08

    UPDATE: April 4, 2011 — After more than a year of taking a lot of heat for this particular blog post, I’ve decided to close comments.  I appreciate the replies to this article, which is the closest thing I’ve ever done to anything investigative, but I really don’t have a vendetta here, and I carry both Joyce’s and Beth’s products in the two bookstores I do buying for.

    I’ve defended my reasons for running this and leaving it up in various responses to the comments. Please read them. I’ve tried to make it clear my goal was not to wound or hurt anyone.  Still, some writers have made it their goal to judge me for posting this. I’m sorry we don’t know each other better.

    I think the replies, 37 as of now, show the variety of opinions people have on this issue. Also, I need to suggest that for some, the “wrongness” or “excess” of any preacher’s housing, if any, will diminish as the U.S. climbs out of recession.

    I’d also invite you to read a follow up piece that appeared here several months later.

    Finally, I would want to remind you that a great many people found this because they were indeed searching for pictures of Joyce’s house.  I really don’t know why. And I also want to reiterate that the main issue concerning Beth had to do with the politics by which her products are sold.

    For the record, I am in favor of women as elders, women in ministry and women as pastors. But I would like to think there was a solid theological education underpinning that role. However again, I would also like to say that education isn’t everything, and that the main criteria noted with the disciples in Acts was that they were seen to have “spent time with Jesus.”


    September 13, 2008

    The Male Domination of the Christian Internet

    Filed under: Christianity, Church, family — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:18 pm

    Although the blogroll at right lists a handful of sites I think are worth visiting, my personal bookmarks include some 70 + Christian blogs which I try to check out at least every other day.   That’s a lot of blogs.   And you know what?   They’re all written by men.  As in males.  As in not women.

    Tonight I landed on a couple of blogs written by women that aren’t part of my bookmarks.   I immediately bookmarked both of them.  I need to hear their perspective.   I need to listen carefully to what they’re saying.   I realize there is a certain dimension, possibly even a certain depth of spirituality that I don’t find reading stuff by fellow guys.   A different understanding of God’s dealings with us in this broken old world.

    I think that much of this has to do with the fact that men “publish” on the internet with the intention of reaching the widest audience.   Women tend to be truer to the idea of blogs as online diaries; they write about raising kids, about intimate feelings, about deep personal discoveries in their reading of the scriptures.  In that sense, women bloggers often tend to be more “Psalm-like” in their online composing.   In the Psalms, David (or Asaph, or whoever) unleashes both high praise and extreme frustration towards God, who is always there as listening friend, whatever David’s mood that day.   The Psalmist just wants to express something.

    What do you think?  Is it just me, or is Evangelical Christianity totally dominated online the way it’s dominated in the church, and in Christian publishing?   What percentage of the bloggers you read are female?

    ~Paul Wilkinson

    SEPT 14 UPDATE:  Turns out that ON THE VERY SAME DAY, the cartoon blog ASBO JESUS was running a post on the VERY SAME THEME.  Check it out and check out the comments, too.   Link here.

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