Thinking Out Loud

May 31, 2012

My Favorite Praise Song

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

May 30, 2012

Wednesday Link List

They didn’t talk about this at seminary: A Russian Orthodox priest blesses the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft on the launch pad at the Russian leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket is set to head to the International Space Station on December 15, with US, Italian and Russian astronauts on board.

  • I don’t spend a lot of time tracking Roman Catholic theology or books, but I was intrigued the other day to see this title: 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura. Here’s how they introduce the subject.
  • Members of an Anglican Church in Virginia are paying a high price their convictions about same-sex marriage, but 90% of them decided they had to take a stand.
  • Meanwhile, in Canada, a group of breakaway Anglicans are launching their own college.
  • And speaking of higher education; if you flunked Biblical Greek in Bible College and failed Biblical Hebrew in seminary, you get one more chance: Two villages in Israel are trying to revive the Aramaic language, with help from a TV station in Sweden.
  • Be among the first to watch this 2.5 minute preview of the movie Hanged on A Twisted Cross, The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Missionary is coming home from the field. “Aww;” my wife said, “Now what will she be the worst at?” Here’s her husband’s version of it, and here’s Jamie’s.
  • BDBO posts an announcement from Benny Hinn about the restoration of the relationship with his former wife; along with a link to an article suggesting some news may be premature.
  • A disturbing news story about a high school girl who couldn’t attend a state leadership event because the non-denominational service provided wasn’t up to the standard of her Roman Catholic mass, gets dissected at Get Religion by a Lutheran who admits her denomination would react the same way — all this on a blog that was established to confront bias in religious reporting. Sorry, but exclusivity is one of the primary marks of a cult.
  • One of the pastors at Cross Point gave an amazing sermon on Sunday, comparing listening to and obeying God with listening to your guide when you’re river rafting. Hope it’s available online soon.
  • John Dyer looks at the three major issues arising from the use of “Bible apps” on smartphones during worship services.
  • LGBT Discussion Link of the Week: A pastor shares a Twitter conversation with someone who wants to diminish his church’s orthodoxy on the basis of this one issue.
  • Monday night I watched an amazing lecture by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Later that night, I discovered that the program I watched, Only One Race, is available at the ministry’s video on demand page.
  • Police in Indiana arrested a 55-year old Christian Reformed pastor who had placed cameras in the women’s restroom.
  • Meanwhile, a California pastor and his associates are facing a range of charges including assault, child abuse, kidnapping  and torture following a disciplinary action involving a 13-year old at a Bible study.
  • After a bad review from Tim Challies, Ann Voskamp takes the high road, leading TC to admit he sometimes lacks sensitivity, but One Thousand Gifts fails to earn the Challies seal of approval.
  • Just ’cause you’re talking about an individual, doesn’t mean it’s bad: Floyd and Sally McClung want encourage positive gossip.
  • 99.99% of everything at Lark News is fiction, but the story of the pastor whose Tweets destroyed his reputation is so totally believable.
  • if you want to avoid having your blog posts copied to other blogs, just have a blog where you write everything in lower case. most of us will keep our distance, except for a few type a people who will go through and capitalize where needed. mark oestreicher, this means you.
  • Okay, so if you’re part of ‘prayer cloth’ culture, today’s closing picture is a bit irreverent — and a bit dated — but…

May 29, 2012

Gay and Christian: The Issue of the Week, Month, Year, Decade

Last year at this time, the Christian blogosphere was still working through the aftermath of Rob Bell’s almost-denial of the existence of hell; but when the decade as a whole is analyzed, it will be the issue of homosexuality that has generated the most heat.

This time around, unlike at his non-blog, Southern Baptist prez Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. was unable to turn off comments, which probably number around 7,100 as you read this.

At CNN’s Belief Blog, Mohler deals with the issue, “If the Levitical laws still apply why do we eat shellfish?”  As someone who was treated to a rare lobster dinner on Saturday night, I have a personal stake in this issue.  Mohler’s response is to direct inquiries to Acts 10, where Peter is told, ““What God has made clean, do not call common.” (vs 15)  But he says this is limited to the kosher food laws.

Some people then ask, “What about slavery and polygamy?” In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity. For this reason, the abolitionist movement was largely led by Christians, armed with Christian conviction.

The Old Testament did allow for polygamy, though it normalizes heterosexual monogamy. In the New Testament, Jesus made clear that marriage was always meant to be one man and one woman.

“Have you not read that He who created them made them male and female?” Jesus asked in Matthew. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” For this reason, Christians have opposed polygamy on biblical grounds.

In other words, Mohler believes that this New Testament passage affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman.  (A right the LGBT has lobbied for aggressively, but an issue that really forms a small subset of the greater issue of behavior and practice.)

Mohler speaks with the authority of his office, but I’m not sure his words would convince someone better versed in a gay-and-Christian apologetic.

Or, as it turns out, even those outside the gay movement like Fred Clark at the blog Slacktivist

I should note here that Mohler’s interpretation of Peter’s vision is widely held and quite popular among American Christians. (I wrote about this earlier in “The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon.”)

But while popular, this view utterly contradicts Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. If Mohler is right, then Peter was wrong. If Peter was right, then Mohler is wrong.

For Peter, his rooftop vision wasn’t about kosher dietary laws — it was about people. He says this explicitly: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

That’s a very different conclusion from the one Mohler draws. Mohler says this story — this scripture — is about purity laws. Peter says this story is about God’s commandment that no people should be excluded as impure.

I’m going to have to side with Peter on this one. Peter was right. Mohler is wrong.

Mohler’s case for his interpretation of Peter’s vision only looks plausible if you extract a tiny portion of the story from the rest of the chapter, but if you read all of Acts 10, you’ll see that the story doesn’t allow that.

Consider, for example, the purpose of Peter’s vision. It wasn’t sent because Red Lobster was about to bring back “endless shrimp,” but because of the people who were about to knock on Peter’s door. The author of Acts makes sure we don’t miss that point, writing: “While Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the [impure, uncircumcised, bacon-loving Gentile] men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.”

But Matt Kennedy at the blog Stand Firm challenges Clark’s interpretation:

Fred wants to set Peter’s recognition that the holiness code no longer stands between Jew and Gentile because God has made all things clean in Jesus against the vision in which Peter was told that God has made all things clean. The “tiny portion” of Acts 10 that Fred wants us not to pay attention to is the vision itself – the part where God declares the unclean animals clean; the part where God sets aside the first to establish the second (Hebrews 10:9). The holiness code is the reason Peter would not have gone to Cornelius’ house before the vision. The removal of that code is precisely what leads him to say yes and go with his visitors.

Like most revisionist activists the Slacktivist is a selective reader. He loves the part where Peter affirms that (in Fred’s words) “no people should be excluded as impure” because he thinks that orthodox Christians believe that homosexual people are “impure” but the part about the removal of holiness code is terribly inconvenient so he simply pretends that the obvious connection between the two isn’t there and trusts that his readers have as much interest in actually reading the bible for themselves as episcopal bishops do.

(Personally, I think the last sentence clause was a really cheap shot.)

I would have preferred for Kennedy to articulate the nuances of his argument a little differently, I find the clarity of Clark’s thesis — including an earlier stating of it back in 2004 — more appealing.

But in so doing, I’m not awarding victory in this matter to Clark.  I just think that whatever Mohler and Kennedy are on to, they’re taking a muddy path to get there.

Which is why I keep coming back to an entirely different setting for the debate that I believe would provide more understanding for people on both sides of the issue.

While comments are welcome here, greater discussion value might be found at the blogs linked.

Image: Red Lobster (where else?)

May 28, 2012

Sometimes, The Christian Life is Just Plain Messy

My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus, I keep losing him in the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

Most of the moments of my life seem hopelessly tangled in a web of obligations and distractions. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness.I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing. I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost sixty, and I fail on a regular basis. If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what people would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like “He was a nice guy” or “He was occasionally decent” or “Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.” Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. “Mike was a mess.” 

When I was younger, I believed my inconsistency was due to my youth. I believed that age would teach me all I needed to know and that when I was older I would have learned the lessons of life and discovered the secrets of true spirituality. I am older, a lot older, and the secrets are still secret from me.I often dream that I am tagging along behind Jesus, longing for him to choose me as one of his disciples. Without warning, he turns around, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “Follow me!” My heart races, and I begin to run toward him when he interrupts with, “Oh, not you; the guy behind you. Sorry.”I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life, and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up mostdays with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is . . . uh . . . meandering.So I’ve decided to write a book about the spiritual life.

When a decade later people are still raving about a book as though it were published yesterday, it’s a good idea to sit up and take notice. When people whose reading tastes you trust keep talking about that one book that you never got around to reading, it’s a good idea to check it out.

Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties, and therefore, by default, it’s magazine, the classic Wittenburg Door, a magazine that was very influential in my spiritually formative years. Sadly, a year after writing his signature book, Messy Spirituality in 2002, Michael was killed in a traffic accident.

I finished reading Messy Spirituality yesterday, and it’s significant to be blogging this fact on a Monday. We’ve all just come from weekend services where we interacted with other members of our  faith family, people who outwardly seem to have it all together. There’s a lot of posturing at church, and you’ll see better acting there on a Sunday morning than at any of the finest shows on Broadway.

But not all of us are perfect. Some of us are misfits. Some of us are tainted by sin. Some of us are broken by circumstances. Some of us are just plain lost and confused.

This is why Jesus came. This is why we needed a Savior.

This brokenness, our messiness, is not something to sweep under the rug or try to cover up with cosmetics; it’s something to celebrate.

Messy Spirituality is a book that reminds not-so-perfect people that we are loved and accepted as we are; we don’t have to clean up first to come to church or to come to him.  Through many anecdotes from Michael’s later career as pastor of a small church, and reminders of Christ’s ministry on earth, Michael weaved a tapestry that brought tears to my eyes several times.

This is a book that will appeal to readers of Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey and Wayne Jacobsen.  This is a book “for the rest of us;” those who find their spiritual life is, at times, simply messy. 

Read another excerpt from the book at C201

Messy Spirituality was published in 2002 in hardcover and released in 2007 in paperback by Zondervan. Unlike some review books here, this one was purchased by myself and is staying a part of my permanent book collection.

May 27, 2012

Spirit Day: Pentecost Sunday

Filed under: quotations — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:50 pm

Darryl Dash is a pastor and church-planter in Toronto who generally blogs for the benefit of fellow pastors, but posted something today which applies to us all:

Today is Pentecost Sunday. I’m haunted by these words by Oswald Chambers, which remind me of how much I need the Holy Spirit.

Beware of worshiping Jesus as the Son of God, and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world, while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything in and through you.

I long for evidence in our lives and churches that the Spirit is at work through us. I’m praying that it would be so.

Image

Arousal Addiction: Video Games, Porn and Men

A Stanford University professor has a guest article at CNN this weekend which is worth a look: The Demise of Guys: How video games and porn are ruining a generation, which is also the title of a general market book on the same subject. The two addictions are compared and contrasted, but the one thing they have in common is arousal:

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

The article affirms what others are saying about brain chemistry:

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Read the entire piece.

Also check out the author’s 2011 TEDTalk on “The Demise of Guys.”

As I’ve mentioned before here, this situation has major implications for the church: Men just aren’t stepping up when things need doing; they aren’t volunteering. Either gripped by the sinfulness of their online addictions, or unable to find free time for the same reason, the mission of the church is slowly being ceded to women, a demographic which is also seeing a rise in online addictions of a different type. 

We need to have a conversation in each of our churches about this. This needs to be discussed. It needs to be confronted.

May 26, 2012

If Churches Were Like Colleges and Universities

Yesterday my wife received an alumni newsletter from her college. Because I graduated from the University of Toronto, which is a federation of colleges, I get three of these things regularly, one from the university itself, one from my college, and one from the Department of Philosophy even though I majored in Sociology.

I flip through these, and don’t entirely regard them as junk mail, though I’ve never yet made a donation and frankly, with Christian charities a priority, I’m not ever likely to.

Still, I wondered — minus the glossy magazine part — what it would be like if local churches had some of the mentality of alumni associations, especially toward people who have either moved on or dropped out:

  • They’re really good at maintaining a data base of former students and knowing what each is doing. In church life we tend to assume that people have simply gone on to another church when that’s not always the case. They have an interest in where life has taken you, and they track you down, even if you move several times and think you’ve lost them! I’m going to guess here that 99% of churches have nothing formal in place to ‘follow’ former adherents and members, and truth be told, a significant number of them did not go on to another church.
  • They’re really excited about sharing their programs. It never occurs to us that if someone liked what we were doing as a church once, they might be interested in connecting again. We basically treat departures as a form of rejection, unless the person moved or was transferred.
  • The door is always open. We have nothing in the church that compares to the concept of ‘homecoming.’ Just think what might be if we created a culture where the welcome mat is always out for former members and participants. Colleges and universities invite you walk the corridors and sit in the classrooms to rekindle memories; why can’t a church do that?
  • They earnestly solicit your financial help to advance their work. Even though I don’t expect to benefit directly from what my alma mater is doing currently, they invite me invest in its future. Many people who have stopped going to church have stopped giving to Christian causes even though the latest books tell us they still like Jesus, they still love God. There must a polite way to say, if you’re not giving to anything, the work of the church still goes on.
  • They share their stories. Related to the above item, they have a better system for hearing back from their ‘graduates,’ and what is being accomplished in and through their lives. In a world of email and Facebook, keeping in touch with former church adherents ought to be a cakewalk. Some are possibly very grateful to share how their time at your church impacted their lives. Everyone else needs to hear those stories.

What do you think?  Are there analogies I missed? Can we do better at tracking people who were once part of our church family roll?

May 25, 2012

Rachel Held Evans’ Monkey Town

I know it’s generally uncool for a blogger to review a book that’s two years old, but then again, I actually paid for my copy, so technically this isn’t a review review; whatever that means. I was more overcome with curiosity, having become a regular reader of Rachel’s blog.

Sometimes a great blogger does not a great book author make, but in this case — sorry, Rachel if this seems uncomplimentary — the book was far better than what I’m accustomed to reading each day in blogland. The thing that struck me was that the book was so readable; the first hundred pages flew by in a single sitting.

Rachel Held Evans’ title refers to growing up in the town that was the venue for the Scopes Monkey Trial, the trail concerning the teaching of evolution and creation in public schools that some Christians see as having been as pivotal as Roe v Wade. I’d love to say that it ends there, that Rachel isn’t personally a proponent of some kind of theistic evolution, but in fact, this is one of the issues she deals with.

And Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Zondervan, paperback, June 2010) is definitely about raising the tough questions and allowing doubts to nurture somewhat without ending with a total abandonment of either God or some of the primary fundamentals of the conservative faith in which she was raised.  To that end, this is a book that will appeal to readers of authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.

It’s also a ‘growing up Christian’ type of memoir, and as Rachel herself admits, to do something of that nature while still in one’s twenties, is a bit of daunting task. This book will certainly resonate with anyone in Rachel’s demographic, or who identifies with postmodern culture.

While the book is edgy, it didn’t stir up the hornets’ nest that her next book — A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master — is bound to when it releases in late October. (See an article on this subject here at TOL.)

In the meantime, you’ve got Rachel’s blog to enjoy if you’re looking for more.

May 24, 2012

Creating a Unique Presence Online for Your Church or Business

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The Proverbs 31 Woman in a Song

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

Well, actually a modern Proverbs 31 woman.  Great lyrics. Great song. And 31 years later, watch for a re-release of the album coming — just weeks away!

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