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We Need More Than Liturgy

Liturgical worship is the rage among many evangelicals. 'Not so fast,' says a liturgical Christian.

The service was undeniably beautiful. Dedicated pastors and volunteers had planned it for weeks. There were banners, incense, and altar decorations. The sanctuary was packed: more than 1,000 folks overflowed the seats, latecomers standing along the sides and back. The congregation participated with gusto. But after receiving Communion, they marched out of the sanctuary. By the closing hymn, only a few folks dotted the pews that just five minutes before had been filled to bursting.

Some left to cram in work, but many in this particular group were on their way to that night’s parties. In another five hours, many would be passed out on the couches of friends or strangers, a few would be rushed by ambulance for alcohol poisoning treatment, and, most horrific, some would be sexually assaulting their peers or suffering such violence. It was the weekend, and the community in question was a Christian university. The school was by no means a place where only lip service was paid to Christian ideals: students eagerly participated in voluntary ministry, including planning that night’s service. So why were their late-night identities so disconnected from their church identities?

A growing number of evangelicals view failures of faithfulness as lapses in liturgical formation—or claim that participating in liturgical worship is key to transforming our character. Beginning with Robert Webber’s now-classic Ancient-Future series and continuing with such gems as Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells, the movement has produced much good work inspiring evangelicals to incorporate liturgical elements into their services. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s multi-volume Cultural Liturgies project ...

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Review: When the Game Stands Tall

An inspirational high school football movie in which even the clichs ring true . . . because it all really happened.

mpaa rating:PG (For thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking.)Genre:Inspirational, SportsTheatre Release:August 22, 2014 by Affirm Films/Sony Pictures

I never played high school football, but I was around it enough as a sportswriter — roaming the sidelines at hundreds of games, hanging out at practices, in locker rooms and in coaches’ offices — that I developed a really good knowledge and feel for the sport.

I’ve seen terrible teams and terrific ones. I’ve seen awful players and amazing ones, including many who went on to star in college and the NFL.

And I’ve heard all the clichés – 110 percent of them!

Which is why I wasn’t too bothered by the canned platitudes that make up much of the dialogue of When the Game Stands Tall, a film celebrating not only the greatest team in high school football history, but the coach — and the truisms and ideas — behind it.

De La Salle High School, a Catholic school for boys in Concord, California, won an astonishing 151 consecutive games from 1992-2004. That’s 104 more victories than the best streak in college football history (Oklahoma’s 47 from 1953-57), and 130 more than the NFL’s longest (New England’s 21 straight in 2003-2004).

When the Game Stands Tall is based on the 2003 book of the same name by Neil Hayes, a sportswriter for the Contra Costa Times. I don’t how many clichés are in the book, but if Hayes quotes De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur at all, it’s certain to have some.

Here are just a few from the film, as spoken by “Coach Lad,” played by Jim Caviezel:

We got caught up in the hype, the celebrity, the glory.

We’re not just a football team. We’re a family, a brotherhood, which is based on love. And love means you can count on me, in good times and bad.

You’re not alone. You’ve ...

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It's Time to Listen: Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice? (Part 1) by Leonce Crump

Pastor Leonce Crump, in part one of a two part mini-series, addresses systemic injustice.

Working Toward Whiteness

“I’m sorry for being white!” His comment glowed from the computer screen with such weight that for a moment it was as if it was etched there permanently. What, you may wonder, was the context of this comment? It was written on the Facebook wall of one of my congregants. It was written by her father in response to her trying to explain why Ferguson has been so painful for so many in the African American community. I was truly in disbelief. He was once a Southern Baptist pastor.

What I wanted to write back, but didn’t is “Are you?” Are you sorry for being white? Or are you sick of having the privilege of your whiteness surfaced and challenged by the plight of my (our) collective “blackness?” Are you tired of “us” pointing out the obvious inequalities of our society? Should I, as a Creole, mixed-race, African American, Evangelical leader sit quietly by, not saying a word about what has transpired in Ferguson and many other cities so that your white daughter would not feel compelled to speak out and the comfort of your reality would remain.

This comment is filled with the type of sarcastic, defensive vitriol that has populated the Twitter timelines, Instagram feeds, and Facebook posts of so many white evangelicals. And it seems to capture the mindset of the majority. Note, I said majority, not all. I make that point to ensure that I (with my white wife, tri-racial children, and transcultural church) won’t be labeled here, as I have been in other places, a “racist,” “race-baiter,” or “divisive.”

This comment captures the very reason why many African Americans feel so alone in this, and why ...

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Behind Ferguson: How Black and White Christians Think Differently About Race

Findings from significant study of religion and race in America inform debate over reactions to Michael Brown's death.

As protests and vigils have become daily occurences in Ferguson, Missouri, so have online debates over how black and white Christians have (broadly speaking) reacted differently since teenager Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in a St. Louis suburb earlier this month.

With an increasing number of Christian writers arguing that a significant gap exists between black and white Christians, the latest findings from a significant ongoing study of religion and race in America offers some hard statistics—and suggest that polarization is increasing.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, CT noted the growing gap in how black and white Christians now think about race. Researched by Michael Emerson of Rice University and David Sikkink of Notre Dame (and released by the Association of Religion Data Archives), the second wave of the Portraits of American Life Study found that divergent perceptions on race among black and white Christians have continued to widen since 2006.

CT directly reviewed five key findings:

1) More evangelicals and Catholics have come to believe that "one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race." In 2012, 64 percent of evangelicals and 59 percent of Catholics agreed with this statement, up from 48 percent and 44 percent respectively in 2006. The increases—driven by whites in both groups—were the only statistically significant changes among religious groups studied (apart from "other" Protestants: 56 percent agreed in 2012 vs. 41 percent in 2006). By comparison, 44 percent of black Protestants agreed in 2012 (vs. 37 percent in 2006), as did 52 percent of mainline Protestants (vs. 46 percent in ...

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Ebola and the Glory of God: An Interview with Nancy Writebol's Family (including Nancy's Comments)

Nancy Writebol has been released from the hospital. I interviewed her family about how they've dealt with the situation.

Why was your mother in Africa?

Jeremy: Mom and Dad have been career missionaries for the last 15 years in various countries in South America and Africa. About a year ago they joined SIM (Serving in Mission) to go to Liberia to help serve the Liberian people through the ministries of ELWA Hospital, ELWA radio station and other avenues of ministry that SIM is involved with in Liberia. Mom helped coordinate hospitality for incoming short and long-term missionaries as well as assisting as a nurse’s assistant at the hospital. Mom and Dad have always wanted to use their lives to serve Christ and help those in need in whatever way they could.

Brian: My parents where following the call in their lives to serve others through cross cultural ministry. They had served in Ecuador and Zambia and felt that the Lord was leading them to use their gifts of hospitality and management to encourage and build the Church.

What was your reaction when you heard your mother had Ebola?

Jeremy: Devastated. With mortality rates of 65-90% of infected patients I knew the statistical odds of her survival were not good. Add to that the way in which a person dies from the virus it can be one of the most terrible ways to die. When we heard that mom had the virus I could only imagine the worst.

Brian: I was in a bit of shock due to knowing that Ebola has no cure and that it is a virus with very serious symptoms. It also seemed a bit surreal as we knew they where taking the proper precautions when doing their jobs.

Has your mother shared any thoughts about the whole situation?

Jeremy: It was overwhelming for her. Very difficult for my dad to call us and give us the news. I think it was the hardest for both of them to be apart with Mom having to be in isolation ...

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We Need More Than Liturgy

Liturgical worship is the rage among many evangelicals. 'Not so fast,' says a liturgical Christian.

The service was undeniably beautiful. Dedicated pastors and volunteers had planned it for weeks. There were banners, incense, and altar decorations. The sanctuary was packed: more than 1,000 folks overflowed the seats, latecomers standing along the sides and back. The congregation participated with gusto. But after receiving Communion, they marched out of the sanctuary. By the closing hymn, only a few folks dotted the pews that just five minutes before had been filled to bursting.

Some left to cram in work, but many in this particular group were on their way to that night’s parties. In another five hours, many would be passed out on the couches of friends or strangers, a few would be rushed by ambulance for alcohol poisoning treatment, and, most horrific, some would be sexually assaulting their peers or suffering such violence. It was the weekend, and the community in question was a Christian university. The school was by no means a place where only lip service was paid to Christian ideals: students eagerly participated in voluntary ministry, including planning that night’s service. So why were their late-night identities so disconnected from their church identities?

A growing number of evangelicals view failures of faithfulness as lapses in liturgical formation—or claim that participating in liturgical worship is key to transforming our character. Beginning with Robert Webber’s now-classic Ancient-Future series and continuing with such gems as Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells, the movement has produced much good work inspiring evangelicals to incorporate liturgical elements into their services. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s multi-volume Cultural Liturgies project ...

Continue reading...

Christian Couple Responds After #ShareACoke Baby Announcement Goes Viral

Dad-to-be: The beauty of the video was that we didnt intend for this to happen.

Soon after Los Angeles pastor Patrick McGillicuddy and his wife Whitney posted their baby announcement video a couple weeks ago, theirs became the pregnancy heard round the world.

Inspired by Coca-Cola’s personalized #ShareACoke cans, the couple cracked open can after can of Diet Coke in what has been dubbed the “best baby announcement ever;” featured on Good Morning America, E!, the Huffington Post, and across the web; and seen by more than 4 million people.

And pregnant couples all over began planning their own clever and adorable ways to outdo them.

After all, we live in an era of personal moments shared on social media, of milestones turned to grand gestures. From wedding aisle dances to surprise proposals, we’ve seen special moments between couples unexpectedly explode as viral videos. (Remember the flash mob style marriage proposal set to Bruno Mars’ “I Think I Wanna Marry You”? That precious little slice of that couple’s life has been viewed over 27 million times in the last 2 years.)

Understandably, we worry about this kind of Internet publicity overshadowing the moment itself. Our cultural love of grand gestures—even I can’t resist watching that flashmob proposal over and over—may build up expectations and lead us to believe that traditional, straightforward announcements are, as one writer worries, “less meaningful, less important, less loving, less special.”

The trend of elaborate proposals and viral announcements has led to backlash. Blogger Kerri Sackville offers this critique:

To me, the whole phenomenon speaks of desensitization. We are no longer sufficiently moved by the wonderful news of a pregnancy. We need more ...

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The Spiritual Blessings of Seeking Solitude

An excerpt from 'A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness.'

There is a silence we choose. Our retreats into our cells of silence and solitude still the noise pollution in our lives so that we might eventually be still. Quieted enough to hear the whispers of God. Still enough to feel the Holy Spirit winds blowing through our lives and to observe the effects of the Spirit winds all around us. We retreat in hopes of delight, in hopes of tasting the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Our eyes adjust. We acquire night vision so that even on the darkest of nights, we're eventually able to see the glory and faithfulness of God. We're able to clearly see the beautiful truths concealed by the helter-skelter of a too-busy, disintegrated daily life.

Our hidden life—how we live in obscurity—is what shapes our character. In this intentional pilgrimage into the desert, our battered, bruised, and banged-around selves can finally crawl out of the fetal position. This is a space where we stretch out to reinvigorate the parts of us that have atrophied. It's where the stress fractures of our lives heal. Here we gain our footing and strength. Here we can finally breathe freely while silently seeking understanding. This cell is simultaneously a hospital for the soul and a training ground for holiness.

Our intentional pilgrimage is not only a form of self-care but also a form of communal care. It demonstrates our deep concern for others. If we truly love others or seek to love others, we'll detach ourselves from them for a while, trusting that our time alone with God will sensitize us to their needs and concerns. Solitary experiences with God form in us the kind of character that loathes sinning against another. Therein we find the motivation to do good to others, including ...

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I Was Saved at Open Communion

Having the choice of taking Communion made it clear to me that I was hungry for Christ.

When I was a child, my father, a secular Jew, paid me a dollar for each volume of the encyclopedia I read. He bought me electronics kits that we played with for hours on the weekends. My mother was a lapsed Lutheran who taught me how to find bargains at the mall. She once told me to put away my books during finals because I was hosting a dinner party that night. "You'll never remember your finals grades, but you'll never forget it if you serve a bad ham."

Our house was loving, loud, and fun, but an undercurrent of anxiety coursed through it all. We were always broke, my parents were usually disappointed with one another, and the world felt scarier than circumstances seemed to demand.

The message of my childhood was clear and insistent: Work, play, and love hard, and at all times stay in control, because something scary is waiting to take you down. I heeded that message into adulthood. I went to a great college, found the perfect job, and chose a wonderful husband. Weaker souls might need a god, but I needed no such crutch. My anxiety would keep me on my toes so that I could orchestrate the perfect life.

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Come to the Table

During the next year, I became a Christian, a member of a tradition whose weak character and intellect I had long disdained. Nothing miraculous happened—no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into the life of faith.

It wasn't clear from the beginning which faith that would be. I visited psychics, read New Age thinkers, ...

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Singer in the City

An enchanting voice out of New Yorks Redeemer Church, Melanie Penn finds herself in her music, her church, and her city.

Melanie Penn wasn’t entirely sure what she believed when she moved from Virginia to New York City in late 2000. She had been raised in a Christian home, but was “a bit of a lost soul” when she arrived in the Big Apple.

“I was very melancholy and victim to the ebbs and flows of my social life, circumstances, and my inner state,” she said. “I thought the remedy for my sad state of mind and heart would be hidden in the city, and somehow I would find it. I did not.”

At least not right away. A year later, she watched from the roof of her East Village apartment as the World Trade Center towers came crashing down. She thought, I have to get my life together. Things could end at any moment.

She ramped up her quest for answers by turning to the only church she knew of: Redeemer Presbyterian. After hearing several of Tim Keller’s sermons, something clicked. “I had a powerful experience with Jesus one Sunday. I rode the 2nd Avenue bus home and knew my life would never be the same. Remedy found.”

These days, Penn spreads word of the Remedy through her work at Redeemer, where she serves as creative and events director for City to City, Redeemer’s church-planting ministry, and through her art, as an independent singer-songwriter who recently released her second album, Hope Tonight, last spring.

Like her stellar 2010 debut, Wake Up Love, Penn’s new record is produced by Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Bebo Norman, JJ Heller). It’s light and airy, much like Penn’s pleasant soprano, and, as the title implies, relentlessly hopeful. The Phantom Tollbooth says it’s “simply enchanting,” naming it one of the best albums of the first ...

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John Perkins: The Sin of Racism Made Ferguson Escalate So Quickly

The Christian civil rights leader responds to the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Five days after the start of this series, on August 9, St. Louis police shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Police said Brown had struggled with an officer, while eyewitnesses told CNN he had his hands up and did not to provoke the use of force.

Residents of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, began mostly peaceful protests Sunday that led to vandalism that night. The police response escalated quickly, provoking outrage and continued, largely peaceful protests. Journalists from The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, HuffingtonPost, and National Journal were arrested or intimidated, a minister was injured by rubber bullets, and St. Louis alderman Antonio French was arrested.

Many—including Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Attorney General Eric Holder—have condemned the "militarized" response of local police. On August 11, the FBI announced a civil rights investigation of the shooting and the ACLU has sued for the police report.

Yesterday, the Governor of Missouri gave control of the police operations in the city to State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson, an African American who grew up in Ferguson. He immediately stopped the police use of gas masks, heavy riot armor, and SWAT trucks with sniper posts, according to The Washington Post.

Even as the situation in Ferguson seems to be improving, the events this week prompted me and many of the writers contributing to this blog series about racial reconciliation in the church to reflect upon the role Christians could play in these types of events in the future. I reached out to John Perkins, an 84-year-old Christian civil rights leader, author, and founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I ...

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The Broken Beauty of the Global Church

Tim Keesee reports from places where persecuted Christians live with suffering and joy.

In Wheaton, Illinois, where I live, I'm surrounded by families who have fled their countries, leaving war, famine, political oppression, and sometimes religious persecution. Our small church is blessed to occasionally have one of these families join us. The depths of faith forged in hardship often overwhelm us. We are also reminded that millions of our foreign-born brothers and sisters, and millions more living without the hope of the gospel, continue to suffer.

These people, living in dangerous settings, are the subject of Tim Keesee's book Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World's Difficult Places (Crossway). Keesee, founder of Frontline Missions International, compiles stories from his travels to places where Christians live with profound suffering and joy. Though some of the accounts lack context, and some of the language veers into the sensational, Keesee's stories and vivid writing bring the reader close to heroic and suffering people around the world.

Keesee's organization originally produced a DVD series that documented his travels. The book follows a similar format, giving vignettes of places and people across the globe. In some places, we learn about the political and religious history through Keesee's tours of museums and historical sites, which adds a rich context to the stories of missionaries and local believers.

At other points, the book fails to supply relevant background information. Keesee tells the harrowing stories of believers in Pakistan, fearing for their lives during a night of anti-Christian rioting he experienced firsthand. But he neglects to mention the political upheaval in that country, which would have helped to make sense of the violent ...

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Alec Hill: Inside My Slavery

How Jesus' most troubling parable finally made sense to me.

Scripture contains more than 40 of Jesus' parables. Some are so well known, hospitals (Good Shepherd) and laws (Good Samaritan) are named after them. Others confound readers today as much as they likely did their first hearers. And one parable has been all but forgotten—at least in the West. Recently I shared it with five U.S. ministry leaders. In their 130 collective years of service, not one of them had given a talk on it or heard it preached from the pulpit.

Contrast their response with that of a Nigerian friend, who told me that the parable is one of his favorite teachings of Jesus. So why would the parable resonate in Nigeria and seemingly fall flat in the United States?

The parable—found only in the Gospel of Luke—was delivered relatively late in Jesus' ministry, to his closest followers. It belonged to a set of teachings on discipleship:

Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, "Come here at once and take your place at the table"? Would you not rather say to him, "Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink"? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!" (17:7–10, NRSV)

The plot is simple. A small household employs a doulos—Greek for "slave" given how domestic bondage worked in Greco-Roman times. A jack-of-all-trades, the slave plows a field and tends sheep during his first shift, and cooks meals and cleans up during his second.

The plot hinges on two questions: ...

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