Thinking Out Loud

March 10, 2014

God > Us

This was a different type of article for C201, and I thought I would share it here as well…

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (NIV)

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”[Is. 64:4] (NLT)

Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (NASB)

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)

 

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwis

A long time ago in an environment far away from where I am today, I was a philosophy major at a secular university required to read The Idea of the Holy by Rudoph Otto. The subtitle of the book is An Inquiry into the Non Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. (Today, the book’s marketing department would be looking for something more catchy.)

In the book, Otto introduced the idea of “numinous.” Sometimes when writers introduce terminology that is outside our normal frame of reference, we tend to be dismissive of its application to our particular brand of theology. But read this definition carefully and slowly:

Otto was one of the most influential thinkers about religion in the first half of the twentieth century. He is best known for his analysis of the experience that, in his view, underlies all religion. He calls this experience “numinous,” and says it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.

Outline of Otto’s concept of the numinous (based on The Idea of the Holy. Trans. John W. Harvey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; 2nd ed., 1950 [Das Heilige, 1917]):

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery):

  • Mysterium“: Wholly Other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor
  • tremendum“:
    • awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God
    • overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its power
    • creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence
    • energy, urgency, will, vitality
  • fascinans“: potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.

~online notes by Joseph A. Adler, Professor of Religion at Ohio’s Kenyon College.

You’ll also see (above) that Otto used the term “wholly other.” I’ve often thought the book could also have been titled, The Idea of the Wholly! Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains this:

The term “wholly other” is used in Christian theology to describe the difference between God and everything else. God, the Christian God, is completely different than all other things that exist. God can be described by essential properties such as holiness, immutability, etc. But we have to ask how we, as finite creatures, can relate to the infinite God. It is difficult when he is “wholly other” than we are. It means that we must relate to him by his self-revelation in the person of Christ Jesus, and through the Bible.

But the holy/wholly pun I suggest above is one you should not forget, especially if you’re more accustomed to using words like ‘holiness’ in terms of personal purity. The website, TheNewCreation.com explains:

The word holy is commonly understood to mean moral perfection. And when it is applied to God’s relationship to “sinners” it suggests that God has such a high standard of holiness (moral perfection) that he will not tolerate or forgive sinners until they are sanctified and made holy (morally clean).

But this is not what the Hebrew prophets had in mind when they cried, “Holy! holy! holy is YHWH Sabaoth.” The Hebrew kaddosh, has nothing to do with morality but means “otherness,”– Wholly Other. “YHWH is other! other! other!”

YHWH does not conform to, or fit into our concepts of deity. He can not be defined by our abstract theistic characterizations (omnipotent, omniscient, impassible…). YHWH is radically, transcendentally different (other) then the gods made in our own image: the autocratic and domineering gods that are the projections of our primate animal nature.

God is radical, uncompromising, unconditional, self-emptying love for the other–us and all of creation. It is this love that defines His holiness. A love so completely open to the pain and need of the other; so inexhaustible in its selflessness; so broad and deep in its scope; that is could never be defined by any abstract philosophical/theological propositions. It could only be expressed and made real in a living person. Only in one who is the fulness of the humane and compassionate Abba. Only in the Crucified One: Jesus Christ.

The other term we often use in this case is transcendence, the idea that God transcends anything we can fathom, as stated in the scripture examples at the outset of today’s reading. The Religion Library at Patheos.com has a reference to Martin Luther that is appropriate to consider:

…Luther’s God is an all-powerful God.He stressed this idea in ways that may surprise people today.For Luther, God is wholly other than we are, and so we cannot rely on analogies from our own experience to understand God.We know about God only what God chooses to reveal to us.The picture of God in scripture is not uniformly comforting.God’s power and goodness are not constrained by human conceptions of power and goodness…

I want to leave you with another set of homonyms to sum up today’s thoughts. We talked about holy and wholly. Our reaction to all this should be aah and awe. Aah because it takes our breath away. Awe because we realize how great God is…and yet He loves us!

Note: Today’s blog post delves into concepts considered part of the philosophy of religion. Inclusion of website links in this discussion does not imply endorsement of the sources or websites as a whole.

October 17, 2013

Attributes of God

Filed under: God — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

A W TozerAll In Cover“God is above, but He’s not pushed up. He’s beneath, but He’s not pressed down. He’s outside, but He’s not excluded. He’s inside, but He’s not confined. God is above all things presiding, beneath all things sustaining, outside of all things embracing, and inside of all things filling.”


~A. W. Tozer in The Attributes of God, as quoted by Mark Batterson in All In.

February 4, 2013

The Other Gods We Worship

With his book Not a Fan currently riding high atop most lists of Christian bestsellers, Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman is back with his second title, Gods at War: Defeating The Idols That Battle for Your Heart   (Zondervan).

This is a book about the various things in life we idolize, creating idols which compete with God who does not want to share top spot in our lives with anything else.  You get a sense of that in this excerpt, part of which reads:

…When we hear God say, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many.

Gods at War - Kyle IdlemanGod will not be part of any hierarchy.

He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A Better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”

God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.

God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works…

Kyle Idleman – Gods At War pp. 23-24

While there are definite echoes of things you’ve read elsewhere, Kyle is writing for a new generation of Christian book readers; possibly some for whom Not a Fan was even their first cover-to-cover read of a Christian title; and others who are or will be doing the related six-lesson curriculum study or will be watching the live simulcast on February 27th from City on a Hill Productions.

Kyle Idleman 2013He divides the various gods that compete for our affection and attention into three categories according to where we find them: In the temple of pleasure (food, sex, entertainment), in the temple of power (success, money, achievement), and in the temple of love (romance, family, self-worship). 

The book is a tapestry of contemporary and Biblical stories and for the current ones, QR codes and websites link you to original interview content on video. My only complaint is the lack of a wrap-up chapter, the book ended all too abruptly, but Kyle did warn us that the final god he considers is somewhat at the heart of all the others.

Watch a book trailer for Gods at War here

December 22, 2012

Where is God When Trouble Strikes?

In February, 2011, I ran a piece at Christianity 201 by David MacGregor, a pastor in Brisbane, Australia; the area which had been hit by record flooding over the preceding months. The same day, I also linked to another of his articles where he is most honest about the trials of dealing with the flood’s aftermath. The unsettled feeling he gets looking toward the future makes it hard to sing certain songs, like “It Is Well With My Soul.” I recommend reading it again today, as well, in light of more recent events here in North America.

After stumbling on his blog, I decided to scroll back and read more of his writing, and uncovered this post and poem, written more closely after the catastrophic weather events there. I think that both articles combine to show that we can be broken, and yet still see the presence of God even in the middle of it all. He called this piece, Christ Shows His Face: A Flood Reflection.


Long time since I last posted. Combination of post-Holy Land acclimatization, everything Christmas, helping out at NCYC 2011, beginning a holiday at Hervey Bay, coming home prematurely because of Brisbane River floodwaters entering our house, moving back into our home just two days ago and finally getting power restored just two hours ago.

This has been an incredibly draining time – and that’s without the massive hardship and loss experienced by so many. It was SO hard being stranded for those days at Hervey Bay, yet unable to get back to Brisbane due to flooded rounds between there and Brisbane. I reckon it’s been some of the hardest few weeks of my life.

We had no option – from afar – to leave the evacuation of our home (either to the top story OR the church OR friends’ places) to an incredible armada of folk from our church, longtime friends and of course Joel and Jeremy back at the ranch. Like so many others, I find myself not starting the year anywhere near refresh. I feel totally drained.

I was taken by a Facebook posting by radio station 96.5 FM’s Billy Diehm last weekend. Billy was asked basically, “Where was God in all this?”. His marvelous answer was loosely along the lines of: God was there in every volunteer, every emergency services worker… So true.

So – the song that had been ‘coming’ for weeks finally poured out yesterday – Christ shows his face… This song is dedicated to all of those “face of Jesus” folk these past weeks, and especially those who ministered to us…

Christ shows his face

 

Christ shows his face
when lives are pained
weary hearts are breaking.
shows God’s grace
while troubles rise,
past foundations shaking

Every smile
Every hand
Every soft embracing
Christ shows his face
when lives are pained,
hope is hard, displacing

Christ shows his face
in thirsting souls
When hunger’s met with feeding
When nakedness for all to see
is met with love, with clothing

Offered rest
Offered home
Offered hope’s new morning
Christ shows his face
when all seems dark, the
light of Christ keeps shining.

Christ shows his face
in community
extending past their comfort
Sharing steadfastly as one
Self-giving for another

Every smile
Every tear
Every soft embracing
Christ is found
when all seems lost, when
When love’s true heart
When love’s true hope
When love’s true light keeps shining.

© David MacGregor 2011
Willow Publishing

click the article link in the introduction to locate a link to a lead sheet for the music for this poem

the link to 96.5 was added because way up here in frozen Canada, I’m actually a regular listener

August 16, 2012

When Fathers Cry

Filed under: bible, family, God, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

Alabama Pastor Scott McCown has been featured at C201 before, but this is his first time here.  You’re encouraged to read this at the original source and then browse the rest of Scott’s blog, The Morning Drive. (And yes pastors, you should file this away for Father’s Day…)

I have had a number of fathers cry while talking to me. Watching these men (strong men I look up to) cry started me thinking about the reasons why fathers cry.

Six main reasons fathers cry:

  1. Birth of child.
  2. School – that day you drop them off at Pre-school or kindergarten.
  3. When their children are hurting physically or emotionally.
  4. When their disobey and rebel.
  5. When their children leave the nest (I have seen as many fathers crying at weddings as I have mothers).
  6. When they come home (cf. Luk 15:7).

God is our Father who cries:

  1. When a child is born into His family. (Joh 3:5 – new birth; 3Jo 4; 2Th 2:19-20).
  2. When we enter the school of life (Mat 10:5ff).
  3. When we are hurt (Psa 18:1-6; Luk 7:11-14).
  4. When we disobey (Luk 15:11ff; Gal 1:6-7).
  5. When we rejoice (Rom 12:15; Isa 62:5; Joh 15:11; Psa 35:27).
  6. When we come home (Luk 15:7, 10, 20-24).

Are God’s tears for you, tears of joy or tears of heartbreak?

June 18, 2010

“I Don’t Love Jesus… Guys Don’t Love Other Guys”

If you know anything about me, by now you recognize the high premium
I place on honesty and transparency.But I’m still processing the words
of a Christian radio talk show host recently, particularly his
suggestion: “I don’t really ‘love’ Jesus; guys don’t love other guys.”

I guess I was somewhat concerned when I heard this, but also somewhat
empathetic.  I resonated with what he was saying; even after all
Christ has done for us, it’s not the same as the love I have for my
wife and kids.

Then later, I saw an older book title, Why It’s Hard to Love Jesus by
Erwin Lutzer and it reminded me of the comment again.  The book description
begins,”Renew the passion for Christ you experienced as a new believer!”

I try to look at my own life in these terms:  Am I moving ‘toward the
cross’ or moving ‘away from the cross.’  I believe that (hopefully most
days) I am moving toward the cross.

I couldn’t honestly characterize it as “an all-consuming love” that the
classic Christian writers talked about.  But my gratitude toward God
and my awe and wonder at His ways grows daily.

Most of us, if we’re honest, are much more consumed by our passions,
our possessions and our position.

R. G. LeTourneau once said (as part of a larger quotation) “…If you
don’t love the Lord you don’t know the Lord…”  Maybe we don’t really
know him.   The disciples were right there and they totally missed that
Jesus was God.

Maybe even our knowledge of Jesus is at best, shallow or superficial.
Maybe that’s a topic for a future radio show.


To read more, check out my devotional blog, Christianity 201.

May 28, 2010

Why Am I Still Here?

Though I had already been notified, a thought occured to me while I was reading yesterday about the death of Rhonda Glenn, who had worked in broadcasting previously as Rhonda London.

Rhonda enjoyed a successful broadcasting career in Ontario, Canada when she decided to join CTS, a family-friendly Christian television station affiliated with Crossroads, the organization that produces Canada’s daily Christian talk show, 100 Huntley Street. She was given her own afternoon talk show, but later decided to leave broadcasting altogether to persue a career in law.   She would have been called to the bar in just a few weeks.

She had married an Anglican minister and they had a son.   The next chapter of life was just beginning when she was diagnosed with brain cancer which ended her life just weeks after diagnosis.   Pray for her son and husband and family.

But I had this thought later on, that probably many of you have in times like this, “Why her and not me?”   Or, “Why am I still here?”

I think much of this has to do with the phrase often used in situations like this, “God took her.”   Years ago, my wife attended the funeral of a young girl who died several days after a brain seizure.    There was a poem read or sung that said something to the effect that ‘God must have needed another angel in heaven.’   It was perhaps comforting imagery, but not entirely sound theology.

I think the “Why am I still here?” question is directly related to the way in which we use words.

I took a course in university on the Philosophy of Language.   It was a seminar format, what I would call a 7-11 course (a minimum of seven people sitting around a table, eleven people if everyone showed up.)  The professor sat almost at a corner of the table and I sat in the corner at the opposite end.   There was something comfortable about that environment, and when people thought I was taking copious notes, I was actually writing songs.   But I enjoyed the readings, interjected ideas into the discussion, and somehow ended up with a B+.

Anyway, the point of the course was that our ideas and concepts are shaped by the way our given languages identify or reference those ideas and concepts.    So when we use a phrase like “God took her,” we’re loading the phrase with kinds of assumptions about the nature of God and His involvement in our day-to-day affairs.

Furthermore, since it often seems like some of the best and brightest die, as we might say, before their time, it then leaves us wondering why God would choose to take them.   This was the question someone asked me just hours after we heard the news of Keith Green‘s death:  Why him and not one of the lesser Christian musicians?   That question contains the twist of implying that somewhere that day a Christian singer or songwriter was destined to die, and it was just a coin toss as to which one.    (Fortunately, because people say things in moments like this that we shouldn’t judge, we have the liberty of excusing questions like this which are not more thoroughly considered.)

I don’t know what Rhonda might have accomplished in her family, church-life or new carreer.   My guess is: probably a lot.  I just know that I am still here, and while I think my life pales in comparison to all that she did accomplish, it’s up to me to try to make the most of the day for God’s glory.

You’re reading this, so you have been given another day, too; what are you going to do with it?

May 16, 2010

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Two of my favorite pastors together in the same service!

Bruxy Cavey

Today we drove to Oakville, Ontario where Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House — Canada’s largest and fastest growing church movement –  welcomed Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis.    It was the sixth and final week of a series on the New Testament message of pacifism.

Early in the message Boyd stated — and Bruxy, not knowing this, repeated it to me in a conversation between services — that of all that megachurches in North America, he only knows of two that are taking the time to highlight what The Meeting House and Woodland Hills see as a prominent them in scripture.

What neither said, but what is implicit in the comment, is that most North American churches subscribe to what is generally called “Just War” theory; or perhaps “Just War” theology.

Bruxy devoted week five to considering the objections people have to this, those “But What About…?” questions that led him to call the message “But What About? Sunday.”   He often records an appendix to the sermons called “The Drive Home” and in this instance the supplement was actually longer than the sermon itself.    You can find the series online by going to The Meeting House and clicking on “Teaching” and then clicking on the series “Inglorious Pastors.”  (Yeah, they really called it that.)   You’ll see the “Drive Home” messages available there as well for listening live or downloading.

Greg Boyd

Boyd was in excellent form, and didn’t seem to miss a beat — or lack any energy — moving from the platform to handling individual questions  between the three services.   The audio portion of this morning’s teaching is also already uploaded, and a quick scan of the nearly two decades of sermons archived at the Woodland Hills site may help you find messages where he’s covered this back at home.

I got to shake Boyd’s hand tell him I was one of his “podrishioners,” his term for people who are part of the church’s vast podcast family.   Then I added — since Bruxy was standing nearby — that I was also one of Bruxy’s “podrishioners” as well.

I wish both of them well in proclaiming this aspect of Jesus’ teachings that is relatively absent from our churches; it’s gotta feel like swimming upstream sometimes.

…For my local readers, after leaving TMH, we drove across almost the entire stretch of Dundas Street, cutting through a variety of ethnic neighborhoods in Toronto, considered one of the world’s most diverse cities.   We ended up at Gerrard and Coxwell in an area specializing in Indian and Pakistani food, making somewhat random choices from a menu we didn’t fully comprehend and enjoying it all not knowing exactly what it all was.

Starting on Friday (5/21) you can catch a one-hour radio interview with Boyd and Cavey broadcast on Saturday (5/15)  on the Drew Marshall Show.

May 11, 2010

Confirmation?

Filed under: God — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 pm

A few months ago a woman who has worked with us for about seven years ago announced that she and her husband would be leaving Canada for a one year missionary term with Africa Inland Mission.

As they cleaned up their house for a realtor to show it, the removed a woodpile only to discover this at the bottom.


Neither they nor ourselves are big believers in this sort of thing, but my goodness, look at the thing!   It’s hard to ignore the similarity.   Even more amazing to think it was there all along during the ten years they’ve lived in that house.

Do you think God orchestrates the placement of these confirmations in our path, or to you, is it just a bunch of rocks?

April 8, 2010

Love Means You *Always” Have To Say You’re Sorry

Filed under: Christianity, ethics, Faith, God — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 pm

Today’s piece is a joint post with the blog, Christianity 201

Forgiveness.

I’ve had a number of people lately ask me for a good resource book on the subject of forgiveness. It’s a popular theme in Christian books:

  • Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
  • Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
  • The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley
  • Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Choosing Forgiveness by John and Paul Sandford
  • The Revolutionary Guide to Forgiveness by Eric Wright
  • The Power of Forgiveness by Joyce Meyer
  • The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John McArthur
  • Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of The Past by Kay Arthur et al
  • How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

The title of this post alludes to the phrase

Love means you never have to say you’re sorry

which is taken from the 1970s movie Love Story and a hit song of that era. You can read more about that here. The song went:

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Love means without a word you understand
Hold me and let the pressures disappear
Kiss me I only need to know you`re here

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Ahh… Isn’t that just sooooooooo romantic? (Bonus points if you can name the artist. Answer in the comments section.)

But life isn’t like that. Sometimes you want to hear that apology. You want to hear the words. You want to sense that the other person has a sense of regret, of contrition.

And sometimes all of us have a way of dancing around actually having to say those words, “I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Christ followers are forgiven people. Freely we have received; now freely we need to give.

Here’s Matthew 6:12 –

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

and forgive us our sins,

as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (NLT)

Pardon our offenses as we also ourselves pardon such that offend us. (rough translation from the French Louis Segond version)

Forgiveness: Easy to discuss. Hard to do.

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