Midweek Thoughts (and Links) on a Frigid Day


It’s Wednesday. The thermometer reads -6ºF.

If that’s not enough to make you philosophical, I don’t know what is.

So here are various unrelated thoughts, opinions, helps, and factoids to warm up your brain, even if the rest of you is longing for a space heater.


I recently wrote about Christianity Today‘s Book of the Year, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America.

A few things in that book that struck me:

1. The Jesus People movement, at first, was comprised mostly of unchurched hippies. When they became believers, they read the Bible and believed that anything was possible for God, because He could do anything or make anything seemingly impossible become reality. It was only later, after more traditional church people started discipling the Jesus People methodically, that the idea that God can do anything and that Christians were not limited or restrained started to vanish. I don’t know about you, but I see that as a sobering indictment of faithlessness—not among the hippies, but among the church people who discipled them.

2. The book notes that one of the primary social realities that doomed the Jesus People Movement was marriage and family. Once the Jesus People paired up and had kids, the movement died. Curiously, the Apostle Paul predicted this in 1 Corinthians 7:33-35. It makes me wonder if the only way we’ll see revival come again will be if it’s driven by and for single people. Singles may be the Church’s best hope for renewal. How strange that they continue to be treated as pariahs in many churches.

3. This is a bit controversial, but hey: It was startling to read how many of the hippies had experiences of God while using drugs. I wonder if we have become a society that is so über-rational that we have to have our overdriven rationality restrained before we can be open to the Lord. I’m not advocating recreational drug use as a means to lower our reliance on rational thought, only that extreme rationalism may be its own disease, one that short circuits the natural centers of the brain that connect with religious experience. Again, I don’t want to reduce conversion to a set of physical correlations, but I’ve got to believe we are out of balance with God’s created order if we flee to the intellect to explain every aspect of the human experience.


Speaking of amped rationality interfering with spirituality, here’s an intriguing article on why young people become atheists: Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.


Oh, that Jesus People Movement thing? Here’s a mapping project that seeks to note all the hotspots of the movement. Feel free to add locations you know of. (Ohio, which was actually a hotbed of movement activity, seems to be lacking input at the moment.)


So much for learning: 23% of Americans did not read a book (or even listen to an audiobook) last year. What does that mean for Christianity, which relies so much on the written word to communicate truth and wisdom?


If you read this blog regularly, then you’ve heard me unpack some of my own ideas on why megachurches may be doomed. “7 Reasons Why Church Worship Centers Will Get Smaller” at Outreach Magazine online adds further insights.


Brendt Waters douses some Strange Fire Conference “logic”: “A ‘Critic’ Answers Back.”


Over at The J Letters, some whack-job talks about truth, magic, and changing the world.


If you’ve been to the movie theater lately, you may be feeling this sense of déjà vu when it comes to the movie’s plotline and themes. It’s not you. There may be a real reason why all movies seem the same anymore.


Is a Christian apologetic dead in the U.K.? Not if you listen to the podcast Unbelievable, a hard-hitting, intellectual look at difficult issues from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives that is very unlike “family friendly, positive, Christian radio” here in the States. (Website here.)


Discouraged? Find freedom in Christ—for free! K.P. Yohannan of Gospel for Asia brings the truth in his no-cost e-booklet on how to triumph over discouragement.

The Church and the “Hot Mess”


And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
—Luke 4:16-21 ESV

Michael, a reader, commenting on my post “Lonely Christian Men,” wrote:

“I come to church broken from the week, and who wants to talk with that ‘hot mess’? Who wants to be dragged down by reality, what with the up-tempo music, extra-foamed latté, and positive message? Sunday seems to have become the day to ignore the struggler, unless you want to invite them on the next men’s retreat.”

Sadly, whatever it is that struggler is dealing with, even if he should accept the invitation, his struggle won’t likely be addressed on the men’s retreat.

Here’s how  the online Urban Dictionary defines hot mess:

A person who is a handful; he/she is a piece of work, and/or a colorful character.

Every church has a few folks best described as such. Truthfully, not a one of us escapes that label, for each of us is probably a hot mess at some point or other in life.

I’m sure many of us have had that same experience as Michael, where we feel as if we’re messing up church by our very presence. Our being there on Sunday is a downer for everyone else because we’re the ones chained to a 10-ton weight we can’t escape. And no one else wants to deal with our load. This makes for the worst alienation imaginable. Because if the Church doesn’t care, who will?

Gordian KnotI think we live in an age where people are burned out of dealing with others who face difficult situations. I also think we’re seeing a multiplication of problems. It’s not enough that someone is facing cancer, but the cost of the treatments is also creating a possible home foreclosure AND the patient is caring for decrepit, elderly parents who live with her. Life, once simpler, now resembles the Gordian Knot. And everyone has his or her own Gordian Knot, small or massive, to untie.

Still, the question remains: If the Church doesn’t care, who will?

In the opening Scripture above, Jesus spoke of why He came. That purpose never left Him. Nor has He abandoned it now that He has ascended to glory. The problems He addressed remain, but it is the Church that must now take on Jesus’ task. We proclaim. We heal. We liberate. We are there when no one else is.

I know everyone is busy. Perhaps busyness is the root problem. Nonetheless, we can’t leave the hot mess to stew. If we aren’t doing those liberating works in the lives of broken, hurting people that Jesus addressed in His reading from Isaiah, then we’ve forgotten what it means to be the Church.

We need each other, folks. Now more than ever. None of us escapes being a hot mess at some point in life. None of us wants to be the downer at the party. But this side of heaven, the Church isn’t tasked with being a 24/7/365 party. It’s meant to be a respite, a source of healing, and a place and people that help others encounter God and help get their needs met.

Have we forgotten what we’re about?

Too Much Grace?


One of my projects for the summer was to read the New Testament out loud with my son. We finished a couple days after summer ended.

I’ve read through the entire Bible a few times, and through the New Testament more times than I can remember. But I had not read straight through the New Testament in perhaps five years. That was certainly too long, but we have a tendency in the Church to break down everything into acceptable chunks rather than dealing with larger wholes, so I suspect my failing is more common than not.

This time through the NT, one theme kept hitting me in the face. John sums it up:

Everyone who has been born of God does not commit sin, because His seed remains in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
—1 John 3:9 MKJV

Whiter than snowWe Protestants love to talk about grace. At one point, we loved to talk about holiness too. Today, we don’t talk much about that second one at all.

What struck me hard in my read-through of the NT this time was that every writer of every book warned the Church about sin. Believers were commanded not to sin. Believers were warned of the consequences of sin. The writers were pretty darned serious that Christian faith and sin cannot coexist. The Book of Revelation holds nothing back regarding what happens to those who sin and those who do not.

The Bible makes it clear that we believers are commanded not to sin. We are also commanded on the flip side: to be righteous. If this is a command, then it must be something we have some control over.  If we are told, “Don’t do that!” or “This you must do!” then some means exists for us to take action or else the command is pointless.

Some might argue that these commands sound too much like New Testament Law. Maybe. But they are there in the pages of the NT nonetheless.

I see Christians today excusing all manner of bad behavior under the blanket of grace. We seem to have room for all manner of grace for all manner of sin. I’m not sure we have the same room for holiness though.

When Jesus says that calling your brother a fool is murder, and the Bible says God won’t let murderers inherit His kingdom, do we take that seriously? Do I even have to ask that question? Because the answer today seems to be that we don’t. At all. Or else we believers would look more distinct from the unrighteous hordes who have chosen the wide, sin-strewn way that leads to destruction.