Thinking Out Loud

November 14, 2014

Skepticism of Another Kind

So yesterday there were four of us, all male, in a room; two of whom I had never met before and one I had only met the week prior. He was the one who was holding the letter.

The letter was posted (that’s mailed for Americans) in the UK and urgently requested his aid in helping someone in Nigeria claim a $4,000,000 US inheritance. You know the pitch. The type of letter you get as an email perhaps as much as once a day.

Only this guy doesn’t have email. So they tracked down a mailing address for him. It was reminiscent of chain letters. He had never seen anything like this. Imagine never owning a computer and being unaware of the barrage of appeals that are sent out using this same scam.

“They should teach skepticism as a school subject;” I said; but then immediately regretted my choice of words. I thought of the various skeptic clubs and societies which scratch at the door of Christian faith; the people for whom doubting is a default response. Did I want to encourage more of that?

trust1We speak of healthy skepticism, but that implies an unhealthy counterpart. There is after all, a place for trust. I’m glad I never was required to do that team-building exercise where you lean backwards off a chair or table and trust your friends or coworkers to catch you. I don’t think I could commit fully.

“Don’t you trust us?” they would ask; and I would reply, “No, I don’t.”

There is also a place for faith.

If a constant stream of email solicitations leave you simply unwilling to trust, commit, or put faith in anything — let’s say anything other than yourself — you are to be pitied because it implies you can’t find anything good or trustworthy in the larger world.

The next action we take with our scam mail is to press the delete button, and at the urging of a 5th person who waded into the conversation, the letter’s recipient was told to shred it — the physical equivalent — and minutes later the sound of an office shredder was exactly what was heard.

I guess my proposed skepticism class would ultimate teach that it’s all about what you put your faith in. Knowing how to discern truth from lies. And knowing that sometimes it is indeed difficult to tell the difference.

 

November 13, 2014

When Church Gets Too Informal

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

What’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

I had noticed her for many weeks. A very animated conversationalist. Frizzy hair that swung back and forth as she made various points to her conversational companion. I spotted this taking place for several weeks in a row. Talking up a storm. In church. During the service.

I never understood why the ushers didn’t address the problem. This was a very conservative church and there was no missing her hair and head bobbing back and forth. Surely the leadership here would DO something.

Then came the week that we ended up sitting directly behind her. She talked through the call to worship. She talked through the opening prayer. She talked through the first half of the opening scripture reading. Okay, this was scripture, the Word, right? It was then that with a voice that was reined in so it wouldn’t travel too far, but with a voice that was distinct, clear and firm, I said, “W-i-l-l  y-o-u  p-l-e-a-s-e  b-e  q-u-i-e-t.”

She got the message. I hoped she would think about whatever might have motivated me to do that. (Gee, I dunno know; maybe wanting to hear the service? Maybe something about having respect for the reading of the Word of God?) Instead, the service ended, and her son-in-law, who was sitting two seats over, stood up, turned around slowly towards me in all his massive 260 lb. frame, and informed me that if I ever did something like that again he would take care of me out in the parking lot. Or something like that.

We left that church shortly after. Not because of her, or him, but because the ushers, deacons and other leaders were gutless to deal with her. It took me to do it.

text_message_girlFlash forward several years. My youngest son returned home from church — a different church — with the news that a girl whom he named in the youth group who was sitting a row behind him was text messaging throughout the entire sermon. I happen to know this girl’s family and they are infected with the same germ as the woman with the bobbing hair. I’ve seen them conversing in a manner so animated that it was distracting to me on the farthest part of the other side of a very wide auditorium. Texting uses no audio, but in a church service, it’s amazing how the little taps can carry.

Interesting how you can be in a room with 300 other people but it only takes one person to spoil the experience. If the person was making a lot of noise, it would be dealt with, but sometimes these things sit on the borderline between requiring action or determining that confronting the situation might make a greater (and more memorable) distraction.

I like that we can dress casually for church. I like that we sing contemporary songs. I like that we show cuts from popular movies. I like that we laugh and are transparent about our lives. But…

I miss reverence. I miss solemnity. I miss the awe with which should approach that part of our week where we enter into the transcendency of bringing our worship before a holy God. I miss the holy hush I experienced in some meetings I attended in my early twenties.  I miss people treating that part of the week as something special.

If I had been sitting anywhere near this girl, I don’t know exactly what I might have done, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I might have gone for “P-u-t  t-h-a-t  t-h-i-n-g  a-w-a-y  n-o-w.” But remember, he was sitting in front of in this case and would have had to turn around to do this.

Then again, I might have simply stepped out of the service for a few minutes.

To make a whip out of cords. 

So… what’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

November 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

 

We continue our scintillating series of celebrity photos with this dinnerware shot by Matthew Paul Turner

We continue our scintillating series of Christian author photos with this dinnerware shot by Matthew Paul Turner

Welcome back to classic format Wednesday Link List…

Here’s a cartoon left over from our weekend look at Beetle Bailey:

i141104bb

November 11, 2014

How Things Look From the Platform

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:36 am

aka What the Worship Leader Sees

This is something my wife came up with four years ago. Have you ever wondered what the congregation looks like when you’re standing at the front leading? Fortunately, the ones the team notice most are the people really entering into worship; but if you look more carefully — and it’s not recommended — it probably looks like this:


November 10, 2014

When People Try to Guess The Future

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:51 pm
It’s just about that time again…

In an article in The Futurist magazine, writer Laura Lee catalogues some of the worst predictions of all time:

“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments.” —Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus, A.D. 100

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.” —John Eric Ericksen, surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873

“Law will be simplified [over the next century]. Lawyers will have diminished, and their fees will have been vastly curtailed.” —journalist Junius Henri Browne, 1893

“It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.” —Albert Einstein’s teacher to Einstein’s father, 1895

“It would appear we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology.” —computer scientist John von Neumann, 1949

“The Japanese don’t make anything the people in the U.S. would want.” —Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 1954

“Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years.” —Alex Lewyt, president of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company, quoted in the New York Times, June 10, 1955

“Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” —Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General under Eisenhower, 1959

“By the turn of the century, we will live in a paperless society.” —Roger Smith, chairman of General Motors, 1986

“I predict the internet … will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” —Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld, 1995

Aren’t you glad your faith does not rest on human words?

~

 

The Futurist, (September/October, 2000), p. 20–25

November 9, 2014

Prominent Author and Pastor Myles Munroe Killed in Plane Crash

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:16 pm

Posted Sunday night at The [Grand Bahama] Tribune

Myles MunroeTHE leader of Bahamas Faith Ministries, Dr Myles Munroe, and his wife Ruth have been killed in a plane crash in Grand Bahama.

The crash took place this afternoon and killed all nine people on board the private jet. The plane reportedly struck a crane at the Grand Bahama Ship Yard, exploding on impact and crashing into the ground near a junkyard area.

The Department of Civil Aviation reported that the plane was a Lear 36 executive jet which departed the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) for the Grand Bahama International Airport.

The plane left LPIA at 4.07pm with nine people on board and crashed while making an approach for landing at Grand Bahama International Airport at 5.10pm, the Department of Civil Aviation said.

A police on source on the island previously said two were feared dead. However, police sources later confirmed that all those on board had been killed…

Continue reading at The Tribune

Dr. Munroe was the author of many bestselling Christian books, including:

  • Myles Munroe on Relationship
  • Pass it On
  • Kingdom Principles: Preparing for Kingdom Experience and Expansion
  • Rediscovering the Kingdom
  • The Most Important Person on Earth
  • Understanding Your Potential
  • Waiting and Dating
  • The Spirit of Leadership
  • The Principles and Power of Vision
  • Understanding the Purpose and Power of Prayer
  • Understanding the Purpose and Power of Woman
  • Understanding the Purpose and Power of Men
  • God’s Big Idea
  • Overcoming The Crisis
  • Principles and Benefits of Change
  • Releasing Your Potential

(Wikipedia)

Cartoon Theology

Filed under: Humor — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:01 am

There are blogs devoted to all subjects, but one I’ve been reading for a long, long time is Josh Fruhlinger’s blog The Comics Curmudgeon, devoted entirely to the art of those lovely syndicated panels that reward newspaper buyers on days when the front page is less than beautiful.

Occasionally he wanders into topics that might interest readers here, and I wanted you to see both the Beetle Bailey comic and his analysis of it together. Click the image to read at source and look around the rest of his blog.

Cartoon Theology at Joshreads

If the text doesn’t come through on your mobile, it’s repeated below:

Not sure what denomination Chaplain Staneglass is supposed to be, but mainstream Christian theology has had a ready answer to this one since at least Aquinas and probably Augustine. The short version is that God is eternal and exists outside of time as we understand it — indeed, the linear progression of time, including the concept of cause and effect, is part of His creation, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk about Him being created by anyone or anything. You can find this logic varying degrees of satisfying based on your own personal beliefs, but the idea that a clergyman would respond to a sincere question about it with “WELP ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” makes me a little depressed about the quality of ministry available to our soldiers and/or cartoonists, and I’m an atheist.

 

November 8, 2014

Saturday in the Blog; Every Day’s the 8th of November

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

First, this breaking news:

samaritans

Personally, I like the new name.


Yes, young Amish men have fantasies:

When the Amish have Fantasies

Don’t ever take one to a Consumer Electronics Show.


Don’t like Mondays? For some each week is a nervous, tentative new beginning.

Confidence and Mondays

Google: “No results found for “God is the great emulsifier”


These pencils weren’t well planned:

Drugs Pencil

Okay, like nobody considered that would happen?


Dennis is a regular churchgoer:

Dennis the Menace Young Man

Not only that, but the kid’s wearing a suit and tie, and using a hymnbook or possibly even a Bible! (Do they even allow Bibles on the comic page?)


This is a novel approach:

Love Enemies Flag

Click the image for the story. (HT: Zach at American Jesus)


Next, a friend with nearly two decades in youth ministry posted this:

Build Strong Children

I like the quotation, but what is the girl wearing?


Finally, from Mike2, this speaks for itself:

God-Wants-600x600

November 7, 2014

Media Musing: Who Owns Christian Publishers, Deline of Music Sales

Filed under: books, media, music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Two stories today that have a common link

Christian Publishing: Who owns what?

First, Christianity Today ran this chart a few days ago which helps put the various Christian publishers that are part of huge multi-nationals in perspective. Each stream begins with the corporate name of the parent company, and then you see divisions and individual book imprints (if it were music, we’d call them labels) color-coded as to the type of audience they primarily target.

Christian Publishing Imprints of Major CompaniesClick the image to read the article. A similar analysis can be found at this link.


Putting music sales in perspective

Each one of the following statements can be supported by a quick online search, but I chose not to clutter this with the links. Basically, the point is that country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift had great success in the past week with the album 1989 which left everything else that’s happened lately in the dust…

  • In just 7 days, Taylor Swift sold more copies of 1989 than the combined sales of albums at # 2 to # 107 on Billboard.
  • 22% of all albums sold in the U.S. last week were Taylor Swift.
  • Just 3 weeks ago people were saying “2014 is expected to become the first year in modern history where no artist has sold more than 1m albums in the US.” *
  • With only about seven weeks left in the year, she is the first platinum album for 2014, and possibly the last platinum album ever.
  • In a broader perspective, the new album is the fastest selling record in the past twelve years.

*studio albums, since the Frozen soundtrack achieved this

November 6, 2014

Philip Yancey on the Twilight of Grace

Changing societyIn my single digit years, I collected a box filled with low-tech, low-cost “magic” tricks, one of which consisted of two large die-cut pieces of cardboard in the shape of the letter ‘C.” One was red and one was blue, and as you held them side-by-side, if the red one was on the right it always appeared to be larger; but when you switched them, the blue one then appeared to be larger. The cutout pieces are identical in size, but the mind views the second one as larger when contrasted to the inside curve of the one before.

I always have this picture in my mind whenever I read something that purports to state that society is categorically getting worse. Haven’t people said that in past centuries also? Is the trajectory of society really in what pilots call a “graveyard spiral” or is redemption possible? Or perhaps do things simply go in cycles?

Philip Yancey’s book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan) is in many ways a state-of-the-union address on the moral, ethical and spiritual condition of our world in general and the Church of Jesus Christ in particular. Ever the journalist, Yancey tracks down every lead while at the same time maintaining a subjectivity common to most of his other writings. So it’s our world and his pilgrimage; one man’s effort to document where the human race is heading and how it impacts on one writer in the Colorado mountains.

Vanishing GraceYou could easily read Vanishing Grace and conclude that these are the rantings of a writer who has finally reached his curmudgeon years. ‘Back in my day…’ you expect to hear him say; but Yancey is on to you and instead each section is scented with the slight aroma of the hope that no matter how dark, there are still lights and there is still The Light.

The subjectivity means that the book is rooted in an American perspective, but Yancey’s travels have made him very much a citizen of the world, and so the book is one part personal reflection, one part ripped from the pages of the newspaper and its online equivalent, and one part history lesson, borrowing from the best of both actual events and what has been expressed by poets, playwrights and novelists.

Some will find the book a little disjointed. In the introduction he states that he set out to write a book, but really wrote four books. In the afterword, he acknowledges that parts of the book previously appeared in print and online in a variety of forums. This is not a problem, as Vanishing Grace is intended for the thinking Christian who ought to be able to navigate the manner in which the material has been arranged.

Yancey writes,

The church works best as a separate force, a conscience to society that keeps itself at arms length from the state. The closer it gets, the less effectively it can challenge the surrounding culture and the more perilously it risks losing its central message. Jesus left his followers the command to make disciples from all nations. We have no charge to “Christianize” the United States or any other country — an impossible goal in any case.  (p. 253)

Just a few pages later he adds,

Several years ago a Muslim man said to me, “I have read the entire Koran and find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.” He pointed out that Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics. The courts enforce religious (sharia) law, and in a nation like Iran the mullahs, not the politicians, hold the real power. (p. 258)

Both the first and second halves of that excerpt are packed with food for thought, typical of what one finds in the pages of this book.

Is Vanishing Grace truly a sequel to What’s So Amazing About Grace? written nearly two decades earlier? The new book certainly brings a maturity to the subject, but I would contend that the earlier title is well-suited to new believers and house study groups, while this 2014 is more profitable for pastors, leaders, mature Christ-followers or anyone interested in how one Christian views the state of our changing world. One thing that both share however — and this is common to much of Yancey’s writing — is their acceptability to giving to someone outside your faith circle.

An advance copy of the book was provided by the Canadian marketing department of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.


Here’s a longer book excerpt that ran at Christianity 201 a few days ago:

Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

(pp 27-29)


For an interview with the author, check out all six pages at this link to Leadership Journal

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