Saturday Six-Pack (31)

Another weekend, another Six-Pack!

That sentence may be spoken with a couple different meanings as another work week ends. For the part of Wondering & Wandering, that phrase describes the latest serving of my web readings that I’ve deemed worth sharing.

As per usual, most articles are ministry-minded or faith-focused, with enough flexibility protected to cover some who-knows-what as well.

If six swamps you, start with my two *Picks of the Week*.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Why Are Churches of Christ Shrinking? (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
I am part of a currently shrinking fellowship; the statistics bear this out. Many theories exist, I am sure. This piece verbalized a number of my own fuzzy thoughts better than I have done myself. I also think there is much packed into the subtitle alone: “A Left-Brained Fellowship in a Right-Brained World”. The link above goes to part one of the article. The sequel post is HERE.  Thanks to James Nored at the Missional Outreach Network for sharing.

2) The New Tent-Makers
I am not currently a tent-maker pastor, but I have wondered often if far more ministry workers won’t be bi-vocational in the future, myself included. Leadership Journal follows two current church planters as examples of what it COULD look like.

3) Why Nice People Kill Churches
This week marked my first visit to the blog of Paul Alexander.  The piece that grabbed me is about staff movement which isn’t as much of a reality in my little church as in some larger congregations. More than anything, the title resonated with something I’ve long considered, and a few of the more specific points contain valuable insights if generalized just a bit.

4) How Minimum Targets Can Mean Maximum Impact
Trust Dumb Little Man to come up with something smart! If you’ve ever experienced frustration with your inability to meet goals or to chart progress, these four tips just might make the difference between another serving of failure and a fresh dose of success.

5) Uncommon Callings (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Skye Jethani is a writer that I find myself really blessed by recently. His book “With” is one of my best reads in the past couple years.  This Jethani offering breaks down the struggle many pastors have with really grasping the “work worlds” of their church members. Some great insights here for all who work in churches.

6) 12 Amazing Life Lessons You Can Learn Through Science
Here’s Dumb Little Man with his second offering of the week! Taking the discovery of penicillin as an illustration, here are a dozen encouraging tidbits that might provide you direction or inspiration on how to take a step upward and forward in whatever venture you’re currently part of.

Blessings on you, my friends.  May your weekend be refreshing in rest, play, and worship.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff above by making a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Saturday Six-Pack (27)

Another weekend, another Six-Pack of noteworthy pieces recently discovered online.

As usual, these articles are typically ministry-minded or faith-focused, with enough flexibility to toss in the occasional who-knows-what.

With the links more thickly packed than usual today, the six has become four. If a third-dozen options still paralyzes you, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Louis Giglio… In… Then Out (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
If you’ve somehow missed it this week, Louis Giglio was selected to publicly pray for the nation and the president at President Obama’s inauguration.  And then he was essentially uninvited. Reason? A sermon he preached 15+ years ago, on the subject of homosexuality, that found its way online.  One of the best summaries I’ve read was from Skye Jethani. Mike Lukaszewski offers this “what I wish Obama had said in response” piece, and Justin Taylor has compiled three sharp bits of commentary from others.

2) Dealing with Demons (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
A missionary from the same conservative Evangelical heritage as myself describes his experience with the supernatural in Rwanda.  Thanks to Jonathan Storment for the link.

3) Churches and Malls
A recent morning blurb from HBR bounced off of this piece by Thom Rainer gives some food for thought on the future of church facilities.

4) 33 HBR Posts You Should Read Before 2013
So we missed the deadline on this title, BUT there ARE some terrific pieces to be found here.  Among them are The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, HBR’s most-read piece of 2012 AND I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why, the most-commented-on piece of the year.

Blessings on you, my friends.  May your weekend be refreshing in rest, play, and worship.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff above by making a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Saturday Six-Pack (17)

Welcome to the weekend, a prime time for some “Wandering & Wondering”.

This weekend’s Six-Pack features a half-dozen of the best online bits I’ve read recently: About faith, about ministry, about who-knows-what.

If you need help prioritizing, note my two “Picks of the Week”, and roll on from there.

In this edition:

1) Winged Enemies
Each Sunday, Skye Jethani‘s four-year-old daughter warns the family, “We’re going to church. Watch out for poop.”  And with that introduction, I suggest you go read the rest of this article on spiritual warfare.

2) Risky Sex
Talk of “safe sex” is foolishness, according to Michael Hidalgo.  Even more, if it DID exist, who would want it?  Risky sex is where it’s at! **PICK OF THE WEEK**

3) Unequally Yoked
That is the new blog title of Leah Libresco, a prominent atheist blogger in some circles, who recently caused ripples with her post, “This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal”.  In it, she briefly recounts her gradual conversion to Catholicism.  A summary by Scot McKnight can be read HERE, and Google can quickly provide you with more than a pile of responses and replies.

4) Why Smart People are Stupid
The New Yorker presented this piece on how your smartness may actually work against you.

5) It’s Not About the Dream
VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer turns to a jellyfish for new inspiration, new ventures, and a new way of doing business.  This is the story behind the man, behind Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, and it involves more convicting and repenting than you might expect.

6) Are You a Saint or a Scorpion
The memorable fable drives home a great point… or several! **PICK OF THE WEEK**

Enjoy your weekend, friends, through renewing yourself and reverencing God.

Of One Mind: Christopher Hitchens and Jesus Christ

In his book “With”, Skye Jethani pushes readers to re-imagine the way they relate to God. Hanging his presentation on five prepositions, Jethani observes humanity’s strong inclinations toward four poor paths for God-connection:

1) Life Under God

2) Life Over God

3) Life From God

4) Life For God

Both older brothers and younger brothers, in the language of Luke 15, are represented here. The first and last approaches reveal the elder’s pursuit of righteousness, while the middle pair speak to the younger’s path of rebellion. As the parable teaches, there is more than one way to get lost. As C.S. Lewis said: “One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.” Or as Jethani argues: There are at least four wide paths to God that will not deliver you to that destination. But there remains one narrow path, a leads-to-life lane summarized in these three words: “Life With God”.

There are numerous reasons why I freely recommend this book; however, this post will focus on only one attention-grabbing section:

Voices from within the New Atheism movement, most notably Christopher Hitchens (pictured at left), Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, have leveled numerous criticisms at religion as an strongly negative force in our world. Many of these arguments are based on sentiments of frustration common even to God-lovers. Often, cases are stated forcefully with intellectual sharpness. It is not uncommon for people of faith to feel unsettled by such strong negativity, despite an inner sense that says something like, “I don’t have a satisfying response at this moment, but something in me says that this attack is not entirely accurate.”

Jethani shed light on such moments through the following section:

“Events like 9/11, and the holy finger-pointing that followed, give ammunition to critics of religion like avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens. The Vanity Fair columnist and author of the best-selling book ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’ makes a compelling case that religion adds to the fear in our world rather than reduces it. But an examination of Hitchens’ critique of religion shows that he is primarily reacting to the Life Under God posture held by many who claim religious labels.

In a debate on the merits of religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (a committed Roman Catholic), Hitchens asked, ‘Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs, to appeal to our fear and to our guilt? Is it good for the world?’

Blair responded by noting how religion also motivates many people toward good and charitable actions. He gave the Northern Ireland peace accords as an example. Hitchens pounced on the statement;

‘It’s very touching for Tony to say that he recently went to a meeting to bridge the religious divide in Northern Ireland, where does the religious divide come from? Four-hundred years and more in my own country of birth of people killing each other’s children depending on what kind of Christian they were.’

Hitchens went on to blame religion for blocking peace in the Middle East, for subjugating women in many societies, and for fueling the 1994 genocide in Rwanda–a country where 90% of the population claims to be Christian.

After the debate between Hitchens and Blair, the audience voted; 68% said that religion is a more destructive than benign force in the world.”

One part of me sighs at this point. Another part chimes in, “Yeah, but that isn’t really fair.” However, despite this inner conviction that some key information is being overlooked, I feel unable to respond. What is Hitchens missing?

Jethani clarified it for me: Hitchens’ attack isn’t actually zoomed in on genuine Christianity, as he might think. Rather, his cross-hairs rest on the first mistaken approach listed above: Life Under God. On this front, Jethani concedes:

“It is difficult to squabble with Christopher Hitchens’ evidence that traditional religion fuels violence, bigotry, and oppression, and therefore adds to the fear and suffering in our world. If Life Under God was intended to reduce our fears and provide greater control over our unpredictable world, it has proven to be an utter failure. Any way of relating to God predicated on fear and fighting for control cannot deliver us from what plagues humanity–namely, fear and fighting for control.”

The real twist?

“It may surprise some people, but at times Christopher Hitchens sounds a great deal like Jesus. Like Hitchens, Jesus frequently spoke out against the hypocrisy and harm inflicted by the religious system of his day.”

Yes, you read that rightly.

In at least this regard, Christopher Hitchens and Jesus Christ are of one mind. That said, it intrigues that one laid himself down, confident that the sacrifice would lead others into life, while the other spent himself in critique aimed at discrediting the former. The irony: Jesus is abundantly aware of the pathetic, even downright destructive, approaches that people take to God. He knows these things better than any, and it drove him to blaze a purified path to the Father. As much as Hitchens could observe, he felt compelled to label any path associated with a divine name as damned by default.

Jesus, on the other hand, lay himself down to redeem the wretched and to free the fools–both those shackled by ritualistic righteousness and reckless rebellion.

Along the way, you can be certain that he loves Christopher Hitchens deeply. And about some matters, he even speaks an “amen”.