Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Check your calendar:  The year is half over.   Just eighteen months left until the world ends in 2012.    Here’s where we were this week:

  • Without question my number one link this week is Francis Chan’s children’s book trailer — that’s right, a kids book — for The Big Red Tractor releasing in September from David C. Cook.
  • Pete Wilson pays tribute to a retiring staff member who he hired seven years ago to bring some experience and wisdom to an otherwise younger team; sharing some valuable lessons he learned from Tom Tyndall.  Here’s a sample:

    Great sermons will get you pats on the back. Savvy leadership skills will win you admiration from your colleagues. Hard work will catch peoples eyes as you separate from the pack. But if you don’t love you’re nothing more than a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. If you don’t love the people God has placed in your life nothing else really matters.

  • Andy LePeau at InterVarsity has a surefire way to increase the earning potential of your children and it’s not (directly, at least) education.   Check it out.
  • I really enjoyed Rick Apperson’s Blogapalooza throughout the entire month of June at Just a Thought, but especially this guest piece by Clay Crosse.  (Check out the other posts, too.)
  • Mark Wilson has a hilarious hypothetical conversation between God and St. Francis on the subject of lawn maintenance.

    GOD : They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
    ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
    GOD:  They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

  • Know somebody who is giving your pastor a hard time?  Probably not anything like this story.   This guy was a terrorist.  This is a book trailer for an upcoming non-fiction book, The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Alonzo; releasing August 1st.
  • A 2006 iMonk column by Michael Spencer showed considerable insight in trying to bring balance to the young-earth/old-earth tensions in science vs. creationism.  He felt the Bible was a book about God and Jesus, not a book about science.
  • Here’s something you don’t see every day; a book about the ascension of Jesus and why it matters.   Check out Jeff Loach’s review of He Ascended Into Heaven.
  • First it was the hymn people versus the chorus people.  But recently there’s been more visible unrest within the modern worship community itself.   Michael Krahn comments,  in a blog post inspired by one by Canadian Chris Vacher.
  • New Blog of the Week:  Contrast by Terry Foote in Florida.   No particular post, though you might read a father’s perspective on the loss of a child.
  • Atheists have put the “under God” part of “One Nation Under God” back on the agenda with a billboard campaign .
  • There are parts of the Christian internet I’m sure some of you (us) never get to see. Not sure what to make of this one: The blog Enoch Route introduces us to “Billy” who offers some signs you might be in a cult.
  • Can you handle one more Drew Marshall Show link?   When the new archived interviews (from last week’s show) go up on Friday, it’s Drew’s first “Gay Day” with Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, Wendy Gritter from New Direction Ministries, and singer-songwriter Derek Webb, just back from a tour with Jennifer Knapp.  Click here after 7.2.10 and select the show from 6.26
  • Ruth Graham observes that the themes in Christian young adult fiction are creeping into the mainstream book market.  (Some critics felt it was the other way around.) Check out her article at Slate.
  • Some people have all the answers until you start asking spiritual questions.   Check out this Soul Chat promo.   More Soul Chat video content here.
  • If you’ve read the last chapter of the book version of Stuff Christians Like (as opposed to the website) you know the (somewhat) serious side of Jon Acuff (pictured at right). CNN’s Belief blog had him back again, this time to tell everyone why some Christians act like jerks online.
  • Late breaking item:  With too many contradictions in his Muslim-turned-Christian story, when Ergun Caner’s current term as dean of Liberty University Theological Seminary expires today (6/30) the job won’t be renewed, though he gets to stay on staff.   The Washington Post tells the story, additional background is at World Magazine.
  • Our cartoon today is a classic — in internet terms, it’s actually only from 2008 — Hi and Lois by Brian and Greg Walker.

If you were listed in the blogroll here at Thinking Out Loud, and your blog name begins with “The,” don’t panic, you’re still here.  Look for your blog’s title without the “the.”  (Requests to have it reinstated will be considered by a bureaucratic committee that meets in Switzerland twice a year.)

Last week’s link list got bumped from its home page position by another post, check it out here.

June 29, 2010

Deep Christianity

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:03 am

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

Today’s post first appeared on June 23rd at Christianity 201

June 28, 2010

Ethics: When to Make Something Issue and When Not To

I am a complainer by nature.   I’m the guy who makes the phone call, writes the letter to the editor, or is vocal about the thing that’s “not right.”

In the area where I live, the minimum wage increased on March 31st.  As a business owner, it didn’t hit us hard, since our employees receive regular increases every 12 weeks, plus merit increases for outstanding work.   They were already ahead of the minimum — some just barely — but we were covered.   It just rendered the increases they had earned a little less meaningful; especially when future staff will arrive on the scene starting at the new higher pay levels.

However, where my youngest son works, I guess his boss didn’t get the memo.   He’s still working at the old rate.  Because it’s my son, every instinct inside of me says to mention it.   Nobody wants to see their child ripped-off.

But I know this woman; I know how much their business is struggling; I consider her a friend.   I’m grateful that she hired my son at all.  The little feedback I get is that he is doing good work, so I don’t think it’s that.

I’m just trying to practice grace on a level that is quite uncommon to me.

She hires a number of other students, and I keep hoping that one of the others will (a) notice, and (b) decide to keep her better informed.  But now it’s been three months.

What would you do?

June 27, 2010

Birthday Boy

Filed under: family — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

Today our oldest son turns 19, the last of the teenage years.   Technically, he is starting his 20th year.

It’s also the day he begins a summer of working at Camp Iawah (acronym for “In All Ways Acknowledge Him”) in Eastern Ontario, Canada.   For ten weeks he will be cooking and serving meals to hungry campers and staff, and hopefully assisting in some technical areas as well.   Both are things he’s gifted in.

Unfortunately much of his allowable funding didn’t come in, despite various requests to our friends by e-mail, and on this blog.   It’s too bad.   When you’re a teenager, the summer is prime time for earning money.   When I was his age, I had more balance in my bank account than I knew what to do with.   Today, the economy is different.    When I worked in Camp Ministry with another organization, I got paid a full salary each summer.   But that was the mid 1980s.   This summer he’ll get paid the same amount as I did, but in 2010 dollars it doesn’t go nearly as far.

But that’s the kind of person he is.  He wants to serve.   He wants to be in God’s will.   He wants his life to make a difference.    Those are sentiments that should belong to each of us, but they are especially commendable coming from a 19-year old.

So Happy Birthday, Christopher — or Chris as your friends know you — and know that your mom and dad are very (righteously) proud of the person you are and the person you are becoming.

Have a great summer, Chris(topher).

If you still wish to support Christopher this summer visit this June 15th blog post.  The camp can’t receipt U.S. donors, but then again, we don’t always give to get tax deductions.   Canadian donor tax receipts are available.

June 26, 2010

Education: An Often Forgotten Social Justice Mandate

Shane Claiborne guested yesterday at the CNN Religion blog.  It was a great article and well-written.    I’m torn between just linking it (knowing many of you won’t click) and reprinting the whole thing (knowing it’s quite long.)    I guess I’ll have to do my best with the following excerpt.

Historically, churches founded colleges and universities and made it possible for kids to attend.   Recently Evangelicals have rediscovered social justice and we’re working on the poverty problem on several fronts, but education isn’t currently at the forefront.   I’ll let Shane tell it, but please consider reading the whole piece.  His story takes place at Edison High School in the poorest part of Philadelphia…

Out of about 500 kids graduating in that class at Edison, around 40 will go to a four-year college and about 50 will join the military. That struck me. More kids in the graduating class will go into the military than will go to college.

I also learned that Edison High School holds another tragic record – the most graduates to be killed in the Vietnam War of any high school in America (54 kids), no coincidence that it is located in North Philly rather than the suburbs. Heaven forbid Edison end up holding the record for Iraq casualties as well.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said,

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

And as we see a bankrupt school system we can truly feel the blowback of the bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is that bumper sticker hope that a day will come when the schools will have all the money they need and the military have to hold a bake sale. It’s time for our kids to dream of another future than wars and rumors of wars.

I am reminded of a returning veteran from the Iraq War who told me of how financial difficulties compelled him to join the army. And then my young vet friend said, “We may not have a draft in America, but we have an economic draft… kids like me are joining the military because they see no other future.” And they are dying as they try to build that future. He ended up becoming a conscientious objector and being discharged.

In my neighborhood, military recruitment is very clever and selective – recruiters go door to door with military brochures that say: “They told you to go to college, they just didn’t tell you how… Join the Army.”

It occurs to me that those of us who are Christians and other people of conscience working to end war and violence (and build an “Army of None” as we like to say) have a tremendous burden of responsibility on our shoulders. We must create other ways for kids to go to college than military and ROTC scholarships.

continue reading…

June 25, 2010

A Rosary is a Rosary is a Rosary

I often joke about the fact that I “do my best work on other peoples’ blogs.” a piece on Internet Monk discussed the use of the rosary, which, if you don’t know, is a piece of jewelry that looks a bit like a necklace, anchored usually by a larger cross (which makes it looks more like a necklace), and a number of larger and smaller beads arranged in a specific pattern. There’s something about the interaction of a comment forum that sharpens the mind.   Recently,

Most of the people who responded to the column have no issue with using something like this as you pray — we blog-reading types are a fairly open-minded bunch — but it occurred to me that perhaps some people don’t know how the rosary is referenced in The Cathecism of the Catholic Church.

To start with, if you need some more background, here’s what that omniscient source, Wikipedia has to say:

The Rosary (from Latin rosarium, meaning “rose garden”) or “garland of roses” is a popular and traditional Catholic devotion. The term denotes both a set of prayer beads and the devotional prayer itself, which combines vocal (or silent) prayer and meditation. The prayers consist of repeated sequences of the Lord’s Prayer followed by ten utterances of the “Hail Mary” and a single praying of “Glory Be to the Father” and is sometimes accompanied by the Fatima Prayer; each of these sequences is known as a decade. The praying of each decade is accompanied by meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which are events in the lives of Jesus Christ and his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary…

The rosary is part of the Catholic veneration of Mary, which has been promoted by numerous popes…

Devotion to the rosary is one of the most notable features of popular Catholic spirituality. Pope John Paul II placed the rosary at the very center of Christian spirituality and called it “among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.”…

The rosary provides a physical method of keeping track of the number of Hail Marys said. The fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers are recited. By not having to keep track of the count mentally, the mind is more able to meditate on the mysteries. A five decade rosary contains five groups of ten beads (a decade), with additional large beads before each decade. The Hail Mary is said on the ten beads within a decade, while the Our Father is said on the large bead before each decade. A new mystery is meditated upon at each of the large beads. Some rosaries, particularly those used by religious orders, contain 15 decades, corresponding to the traditional 15 mysteries of the rosary.

If you go to the Wikipedia article you’ll find a number of internal links, plus a much longer article from which this was edited.

So what are those mysteries all about?  In a previous blog post here, I listed them all for you:

Joyful Mysteries

  1. The Annunciation. Fruit of the Mystery: Humility
  2. The Visitation. Fruit of the Mystery: Love of Neighbor
  3. The Nativity. Fruit of the Mystery: Poverty (poor in spirit), Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of Riches, Love of the Poor
  4. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: Purity
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: True Wisdom and True Conversion.

Luminous Mysteries

  1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Fruit of the Mystery: Openness to the Holy Spirit
  2. The Wedding at Cana. Fruit of the Mystery: To Jesus through Mary
  3. Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Fruit of the Mystery: Repentance and Trust in God
  4. The Transfiguration. Fruit of the Mystery: Desire for Holiness
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. Fruit of the Mystery: Adoration

Sorrowful Mysteries

  1. The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the will of God
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification
  3. The Crowning of Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the world
  4. The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience
  5. The Crucifixion. Fruit of the Mystery: Salvation

Glorious Mysteries

  1. The Resurrection. Fruit of the Mystery: Faith
  2. The Ascension. Fruit of the Mystery: Hope and desire for Heaven
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Mystery: Holy Wisdom to know the truth and share with everyone
  4. The Assumption of Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Grace of a Happy Death and True Devotion towards Mary
  5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Perseverance and Crown of Glory

That list is key to finally getting around to reading the Internet Monk piece I posted on the iMonk blog:

Most Evangelicals won’t be able to get past the “Hail Mary” prayers which form the five decades, but as I studied this a few years ago, for me the deal breaker was the conclusion of the Glorious Mysteries. Before the Luminous Mysteries were added by John Paul II, [in other words, omitting them from the analogy that follows] I found the best way to explain the different emphases of the rosary is in terms of the Shakespeare plays we all did in high school. You had Act I, scene i; etc., and in many ways the Mysteries are like a play with three acts, and five scenes in each.

The Joyful Mysteries (the coming and birth of Christ) and the Sorrowful Mysteries (remembering the passion week of Christ) are fine, but when we get to the Glorious Mysteries (or as I call it, Act III) we find Jesus’ resurrection, His appearance to His disciples and his ascension into heaven. But the last two (scenes iv and v) are “the assumption of Mary,” and “the coronation of the blessed virgin.” And the Biblical references for those last two are… what again? Plus the rosary’s narrative ends with the emphasis on Mary. To use my Shakespeare analogy, she is the one who is center stage in the final scenes and taking the bow as the audience stands to applaud.

So for Evangelicals at least, at that point all bets are off, and the rosary becomes somewhat guilty by association.

Which is too bad, really, because some kind of tactile prayer focus is not, in and of itself a bad thing. A few groups have even tried to develop substitutes, though they’ve never caught on in a big way. But the basic rosary, as taught in the Catechism, wanders at the end into that territory that Evangelicals would say is ultimately more reflective of a Marion faith than of first century Christianity.

After the jump, you can read what I wrote in the earlier blog post about the rosary specifically.  (It repeats the above somewhat.)   If you wish to comment on today’s blog post, you MUST focus your comment on that part of Catholic belief related to the ROSARY only.   This is not a forum for general Catholic or anti-Catholic conversation.

(more…)

June 24, 2010

Worship in the United States vs. Worship in the United Kingdom

Two countries.   Much shared history.   A common language.   Similar politics.

But when it comes to church or when it comes to our expression of Christianity, are we in North America more alike our British cousins or are we more unalike?

Living in Canada gives a few of us a unique window on both our neighbours to the south and our friends several thousand miles to the east.   To many of us here, Adrian Plass, Selwyn Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, etc. are names we have at least heard, if we haven’t also read their books or sung their songs.

What amazes me though is how little my contacts in the U.S. know of Christianity in England.    Where this turns up most is in a cursory examination of worship music in both countries.

Because we’re still a few weeks away from getting the biannual numbers from CCLI — the next six month report comes out in August — we’ll have to settle for a look at the February 2010 stats.

Here’s a look at the Top 25 worship songs in use in the U.K.

Without getting too deep into statistics — we’ll leave that to the sportscasters — you see on this list a couple of Graham Kendrick classics along with the beautiful “I Will Offer Up My Life” by Matt Redman and a number of pieces that follow the ‘hymn style’ of verse/chorus, such as “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “Be the Centre,” and the classic “All Heaven Declares.”   The American #1 most-used chorus, “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong doesn’t even appear on the list.

Here’s the U.S.A. list for the same period:

For some of my American readers, this list seems rather dated, or perhaps even rather tame.  Your church has already moved on to newer songs.   I personally think that the U.S. church has adopted a rather “disposable” attitude toward its worship music in the last five years or so.   Anything before 2006 is considered a “golden oldie.”

That’s rather sad in a way.    The British churches contributing to their list seem to hang on to a good song a little longer.

I also feel bad for American churches who aren’t using “Once Again” by Matt Redman, but also wish that the British list contained at least one song by Paul Baloche.

I think every church service should contain at least a couple of songs from these lists.   This is the worship music that connects us; these songs are being sung across denominational lines.   Too much new and unfamiliar music weakens the worship time.   I also hope your church does at least five or six different worship songs each week.   There’s a trend right now to only doing a couple, but I think it leaves both seasoned worshipers and seekers a little shortchanged.

If you missed it, last week I had another couple of posts on worship music in light of a recent book, and you can read those here (June 11th) and here (June 17th).  (If you think I’ve gone conservative, rest assured that the author of that book wouldn’t have even posted these lists!)

I think it is incumbent on worship leaders to stay aware of what’s happening in worship on a worldwide scale, and know about other material that is available to them.   If you click on the links, you’ll end up at the site which also allows you too look at lists in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

Brooke Fraser has a total of four songs on the N.Z. list, including #2 and #3, but the Africa list has more familiar songs that you might expect.

If I could only sing 25 songs in the next year, I’d be content to make the Africa list my songbook.

Today’s forum:  What do you think of the song selection at your place of worship?

June 23, 2010

Wednesday Link Link

Got a blog post that deserves more attention?   Use the contact page to submit the item you want the world to read.   We promise you at least three or four extra readers!!!

  • Blogger Dennis Muse notes the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Youth With a Mission, aka YWAM.  (Canada’s Brian Stiller once called YWAM, “The Evangelical Community’s best kept secret.”)
  • Cornerstone Television’s home page notes the loss of Ron Hembree.   Although I can’t get their signal, I paid tribute to their quality programming in this blog in March of 2008.
  • USAToday Religion notes the number of pastors in bi-vocational ministry adding fresh meaning to the phrase, “Keep your day job.”
  • A Christian bookstore in Helsinki holds an event where you can trade porn for Bibles.  (And the concept isn’t copyrighted!  You can do this, too.)
  • Justin Taylor gives me a chance to be introduced to the music of Trip Lee; I can enjoy hip-hop more when I can read the lyrics such as on Justin’s blog post and audio of this song, “The Invasion (Hero)“.
  • Jason Boyett reposts a proposal that the thing that’s really missing from your local Christian bookstore is Christian cosmetics.
  • The family that owns the chain of Hobby Lobby stores, according to the New York Times, wants to build a major Bible museum possibly in Dallas.
  • Encouraging Youth Dept.:  The blogger otherwise known as No Bull Noble, offers three apologetics videos on YouTube.
  • Tim Challies runs some analysis on the four available answer options to, “Why Does The Universe Look So Old?”
  • Part two of Matthew Warner’s “10 Types of Blog Comments” is about how to respond.  So once again, here’s part one, and here’s part two.  Which type of blog reader are you?
  • A 5-page CT special report looks at mission in light of technology, with an interview with Al Erisman.
  • Bonus link to Ethix: Business|Technology|Ethics – the online magazine (now in its 70th issue) which Erisman co-founded and edits.
  • New Blog of the Week:  As you know I admire transparency, and here is a blog proudly authored by someone dealing with clinical depression.  Check out ThePrayGround.
  • You’ll have to bookmark this one and return on Friday (25th) but this week’s Drew Marshall Show (19th) was quite a mix with folksinger Dan Hill, Fred Phelps estranged son Nate Phelps (discussed on this blog here and mentioned here) and Hoops for Hope’s teenage founder Austin Gutwein (discussed at my industry blog a few weeks ago.)  So once again you want this link starting mid-day Friday.  (Some people in other parts of the world get up at something like 3 AM Sunday to catch the live stream of the show at 1 PM EST Saturday in North America.)
  • How does a person convicted on child pornography charges, and not permitted to be anywhere there are children, exercise their right to go to church?  Apparently with some help from an unlikely source: the state’s Civil Liberties Union.
  • Macleans Magazine (Canada’s equivalent to Newsweek or Time) interviews Dr. Leonard Sax on the “empty world of teenage girls.”
  • Our cartoonist this week is fellow-Alltop-member Mark Anderson at andertoons.com.  He does a number of family-oriented items; here’s one that hopefully doesn’t take you too long…
  • Okay, Mark’s too good for just a single panel.   Here’s another one I really liked:

June 22, 2010

Radical: It Truly Is

On April 30th I responded here to the sample chapter of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, all the while not expecting to be given a copy of the complete book.   On Friday that changed.   I started reading around 3:00 PM Sunday and by 11:00 Monday morning had finished all 216 pages.

Radical truly is.

In the meantime, I thought I had included another mention of David Platt in the link list, but I see instead I e-mailed it to several pastor friends:

At an average of 55 minutes, David Platt’s Sunday morning sermons at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, are already far longer than those of most pastors. But to Platt, they seem awfully short. He has been struck in his travels by underground Asian house churches that study the Bible together, under the threat of persecution, for as long as 12 hours in one sitting.

He has imported this practice into a biennial event that Brook Hills calls Secret Church. Starting at 6 p.m., Platt preaches for six hours on a single topic, such as a survey of the Old Testament. About 1,000 people, mostly college students and young singles, turned out for the first Secret Church. Since then, other Secret Church topics have included the Atonement and spiritual warfare. It is now so popular the church requires tickets.

“It’s one of my favorite sights as a pastor to look out at 12:30 a.m. and see a room full of 2,500 people, their Bibles open, soaking it in,” Platt says.

Platt believes churches have lowered the bar for biblical and theological literacy by treating it as something for professionals. Equating serious biblical engagement with seminaries rather than the local church has impoverished both institutions, he says. So Brook Hills has launched its own training center for lay leaders and is preparing a one-year training program for church planters, with separate tracks for full-time pastors and bi-vocational ministers. Platt recognizes that smaller churches lack the human and financial resources to offer these programs, but he thinks the principles transfer to churches with only 50 members.

continue reading at Christianity Today

Radical is a book about the state of the American church.    But while it comes close, it isn’t too American to miss out on a larger audience.   Radical is a book about missions.   But it is engaging enough to eclipse the negative stereotypes which cause books of that genre to escape our interest.   Platt keeps it pertinent by including examples of people in his church who have allowed their lives to intersect with the lives of people in the much broader world.  Examples of people not too different from people like us.

Mostly, Radical is about you and me and all that we could be doing that we’re not doing.   He ends with a one-year challenge called “The Radical Experiment.”   Not content to simply write a book review, I decided to check out the sermon where he introduced the experiment in his home church, The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Platt has a quiet, gentle preaching style and a laid-back southern accent that belies the degree of challenge he is presenting to his hearers. The website Baptist 21 says, “He is a phenomenal preacher of God’s Word, we would probably label him as one of the best and certainly one of the young up and coming preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention. God is blessing his ministry as Brook Hills is growing and sees weekly attendance of over 4,000 people.”

Reading the book however, it is very clear that Platt is not entirely comfortable being the pastor of a ‘megachurch’ of 4,000 people and all its attendant accoutrements.  His frequent and intensive visits overseas mean that he is somewhat of a ‘fish out of water’ in the affluence of his home church.  I am sure there are Sundays where his heart is in another place.   Consequently, he is a liaison between the affluent North American Church, and the persecuted church overseas.

…Every few months, a book is released with a message and significance “for such a time as this.”   Books like this capture the spiritual imagination and present us with new possibilities.   Radical is that book for the summer of 2010.

I want to end this with an endorsement the book received from Russell D. Moore, whose blog is often linked here:

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream. But you’ll find here another Way, one you know to be true, because you’ve heard it before in the words of the Lord Jesus, perhaps most forcefully in the simple call ‘Follow me.’

Read this book. Put it away for a time, if you need to, while your conscience is invaded by the Spirit driving you to repentance. And then pick it up again. After you’re done reading, I think you’ll know better how to pick up your cross and follow Christ for the advancement of the kingdom and the destruction of false dreams.”

A copy of Radical was provided by Augsburg-Fortress Canada, the Canadian distributor for Waterbrook/Multnomah. (Thanks, Norm!) The related booklet, The Radical Question is available for giveaway purposes in packages of ten.

June 21, 2010

Masturbation and the Consequences of Sin

History doesn’t tell us who first came up with the notion that if you masturbate you will go blind.   Neither I am aware of any scientific corroboration of this connection, though I am sure that it has acted as a deterrent to many a young man, especially in less-informed times.

Sometimes, though, there are times when, if we give into our lusts, cravings or desires, there are definite consequences.

Heather was the friend of a friend.  I met her at least once, maybe twice.   She was an extremely attractive girl in her late teens at a time before people said, as we now do, that “the girl is hot.”  She got swept up by an older guy — some said he was in his 30s — and we don’t whether or not she was aware that he had AIDS before they had unprotected sex.

This was at a time — nearly three decades ago — before drugs could prolong the life of people diagnosed HIV positive and Heather’s life and beauty wasted away very quickly, and before much time had passed, my friend was suddenly telling me about “visiting Heather’s mom at her home the day after the funeral.”   Consequences.   Unavoidable consequences.

I don’t believe that today thousands of people have started down the road to blindness because of masturbation anymore than I believe that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.   But I do know of one instance where the Bible makes very clear the possibility of physical penalty for something which is obviously sinful.

It’s the passage that is often read at The Lord’s Supper, aka The Breaking of Bread, aka The Eucharist, aka Communion.  Perhaps you were raised with I Cor. 11: 28-30 in the King James:

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Okay, I know.   But for some  of you-eth, the KJV script is all too familiar.  Let’s try the dynamic-equivalence translation extreme of the NLT, adding vs. 27:

So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ,  you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

Wow!  It does seem a bit unmistakable, doesn’t it.  [At this point I paused to check out the verses in four different commentaries, but there was no convenient opt-out at this point, none of the writers suggested the language was figurative.]

It all raises the possibility of consequences.  I think the view would be of God striking someone with something, that the agency of disease or even death would be external.


But I have a whole other direction for our thoughts today.

I’m wondering if perhaps it is not the case that for some people — not all — willful sin creates a physical disconnect between the body and the mind, or between the body and the spirit.   Perhaps it creates a tension that puts us in conflict between our actions and that for which we were created, or, in the case of believer, a conflict between our actions and the way we are expected to be living.

We already know that many diseases are brought on by stress.   Is not the conflict between right living and wrong living a stress, even for those who are not pledged to follow Christ?  It can weaken the autoimmune system, or conversely, overstimulate it.   And for the Christ-committed, would the stress not be greater since the internal conflict is greater?

I had a story cross my desk this week about a person who I knew was involved in something that I considered a lifestyle conflict.   (Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not that one; this was rather obscure.)  This person was also involved in a ministry organization, so the degree of conflict would be more intensive, wouldn’t it?

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  (James 3:1 NIV)

Today, this person is fighting a rather intense physical disease.   I can’t help but wonder if there was so much tension between what he knew and taught to be God’s best versus what he was caught up in, that it some how manifested itself internally as a kind of stress.  But I know what you are thinking:

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.  (John 9: 2-3 NIV)

Not all affliction is the consequence of wrongdoing.   But the I Cor 11 passage allows for the possibility of affliction as direct consequences of sin.

Do you ever find yourself internally conflicted?   Paul said,

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise… I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  t happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.   (Romans 7: 15, 17-23, The Message)

The inner conflict is going to be there.   The tension is going to exist.   The question is whether or not it is going to absorb us into something that becomes a lifestyle, and that lifestyle is going to bring consequences.

You can disagree with this of course, but you don’t want to go blind, do you?


Today’s blog post is a combined post with Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

Photo credit (upper) http://www.lookinguntoJesus.net
Photo credit (lower) product available at http://www.zazzle.co.uk
Graphic (middle) adapted from Chapter One text at http://www.thepornographyeffect.wordpress.com

Read more:  Sin: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

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