Thinking Out Loud

September 8, 2014

Varying Perspectives on Tobacco

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

smokingcover_small

If you grew up in what is simply called The South — the U.S. southern states — it’s possible that various tobacco products for smoking and chewing were part of life, even among fellow Christians. For the rest of us, it’s more likely that tobacco and Christian faith did not mix, with the exception of what I call Christianity’s ‘smoking section,’ the Christian Reformed Church.

This topic came up on the weekend I was listening to episode #13 of The Happy Rant podcast, where one of their topics was the relationship that Reformed people seem to have with it.

Ted Kluck mentioned that he had coauthored a book on the subject for a boutique publishing company he operates, Gut Check Press.  While continuing to listen, I checked out the book description:

You knew it would happen eventually. You knew the guys who brought you Kinda Christianity and Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder would someday deliver the comprehensive guide-to-slash-celebration-of cigar and pipe smoking for the discerning Christian. Well that day is here.What will you find behind that handsome cover? Lots of essays, quotes, interviews, humor, insight, instruction, meditations, reflection on cigar and pipe culture, and a basic primer on the fine art of smoking. Ever wonder . . .

  • how to pick a humidor?
  • which member of the Newsboys makes and sells high-end pipes on the side? (We’ve got an interview with him!)
  • which Puritan wrote a poetic sermon that uses smoking to illustrate the Gospel?
  • which Reformed theology icon wished he had taken up cigars?
  • what your favorite classic movies and novels would have been like if the main character was replaced by Cigar Aficionado editor James Suckling?

You’ll learn all this, plus what different cigar brands say about the smoker, the difference between a Claro and a Maduro, the best places to enjoy a smoke to the glory of God on any given day, and much, much more.

Recognizing that the book was semi-serious, I simply posted the link to Twitter with the single line, “I am not making this book up.”

Immediately, I got a response that basically said, “So…?”

I wrote back, “Enjoying tobacco to the glory of God ought to strike some as, at the very least, a bit of a curiosity.” And I meant that; I thought the cover would make a great graphic for Wednesday’s links, though the book is not new.

This brought this response, “It would strike some that way, yes. It didn’t seem to bother Spurgeon, until a local tobacconist used his name in ads.”

But then, we had a much longer discussion as a family about this. The key verse was obviously I Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I think this is where the dividing line occurs. To southern state Americans, tobacco is just another agricultural product for consumption. The idea that the verse is talking about food and drink would include tobacco products, whereas my non-South friends would want to immediately exclude it.

This then led to a discussion of Romans 14. Verses 2-4 read, “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” and in verse 14 Paul continues, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”

Then there’s the question of new information. We now are aware of the carcinogenic properties of tobacco. Surely that’s a game changer, right?

Anyway, I invite you to check out the podcast, read the book description, and play the home version of this discussion.

September 7, 2014

Veritas Mixes Musical Sources into a Single Genre

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Veritas

Veritas is five young men who wear suits to perform; the type of group your church would have booked on Sunday night a generation ago; the type of group the Christian college would send on tour to raise funds and recruit students.  Described on their website as “a contemporary classical vocal group,” their self-titled album is a mix of things that said church guest musicians or college quintet would offer for sale in the lobby after the concert, assuring patrons that, “There’s something on this for everyone.”

Veritas CDSo you get a little CCM (I Can Only Imagine), a little modern worship (Angus Dei, 10,000 Reasons) an inspirational track (You’ll Never Walk Alone), the obligatory patriotic number (American Anthology), the classical performance number (The Lord’s Prayer), a John Legend cover (If You’re Out There) and inexplicably, a Christian rock cover (Dare You To Move). Hearing the last one, my wife noted, “They’ve taken Switchfoot and done a Disney version of it.” Well, not exactly…

But then my son commented that genre issues aside, “This is actually a very well produced album.” And it is. And there really is something for everyone. And Christmas is coming and you need to buy gifts.

You’ll find it available in stores on Tuesday filed under… well, you’ll just have to look in various places for it.


When Christian blogs took off, publishers rushed to flood popular social media authors with books to review, but CD reviews are rarely seen on any but a few Christian websites. We’re open to reviewing any and all nationally-distributed albums sent to us; this one is releasing through Provident Distribution and was sent to us by David C. Cook, who do an excellent job — and I’m not saying that to get more CDs to review — distributing their product in the frozen north.

 

 

September 6, 2014

Christian Mom Kicks Gay Son Out of the House

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

The video linked in today’s post today’s language and subject matter that may not be appropriate for all readers. Read the description before you decide whether or not to listen.

I decided not to embed the video in question in today’s post, but you are free to click through to watch it as nearly 6 million people have as of this writing. It’s disturbing on a number of levels.

It starts out with ‘Mom’ telling ‘Son’ that he has made a choice that goes against the Word of God. Yes, she is, by all appearances what you call a ‘fine upstanding Christian woman.’ He states that being gay is not a choice. She tells him quite plainly that he has to leave. He says he will pack his things and be gone.

The video — an audio file really — runs about 5:00 and for the first half, things are being dealt with rather calmly. Then it all goes south.

My wife listened to this and noted that “one’s true personality is revealed in anger.” The rest of this is rather hard to listen to. If you have blood pressure issues, just skip the video entirely. The ‘Mom’ in the second half of the video becomes a totally different person. Which one is the real her?

But there’s more to this story. His friends posted a page at GoFundMe.com to help the boy get $2,000 in living expenses having been kicked out. Instead, the page raised nearly $94,000.

That reminded so much of a story Jesus told to help some people understand who is a real neighbor to someone in need.  There’s more compassion and caring coming from the people who reached in their wallets than there is from the ‘religious’ parent who is more concerned with heaping condemnation.

In saying this, I’m not trying to make a statement, or suggest that I am extremely gay-friendly. I do believe God has a “best,” and that’s His highest intention for humankind. But being right on the subject may not be terribly important if the response isn’t Christ-like.

If I lack love I am like a “clanging symbol.” This morning, Chip Ingram explained on his radio show that this was actually the Apostle Paul making a reference to pagans who would use a gong or symbol to wake up their gods. He’s telling the Corinthians that if they have not love, they are no better than their pagan neighbors.

I’ve often heard it said that what is key in life is not what happens to us, but how we react to it. For the capital ‘C’ Church, what matters most is not where we land the plane on the issue of homosexuality, but rather, the nature of our response.

Again, to repeat, the key questions are:

  • What best reveals the real me, the times I give a steady, level response, or the things I say in anger?
  • Who is the example of living like Jesus, the ones who condemn, or the ones who reach in their pocket to help a homeless boy?
  • What matters most, a church’s stand on a particular social issue, or the way in which they approach those their stance most impacts?

 

 

September 5, 2014

If You Lived Here, You’d Know How to Get There

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

confusing street signageBeing unable to fully use our mobile phones (see yesterday’s post) we’ve spent the last 4 or 5 days at the mercy of others giving us directions.  This is a basic skill that apparently is not covered in the education system.

 

I am reminded of the classic comedy line where somebody is on a bus (or train or trolley) and asks for directions to a given place and is told, “That’s easy; watch me and get off one stop before I do.”

 

Being told that the restaurant in question is next door to Red Lobster is of no use if you don’t know where Red Lobster is.  Somehow, even though it’s rather plain that you need help, there seems to be an assumption that everybody knows everything there is to know about your home town.

 

This has got me wondering if we do the same sort of thing in the Church; if people are entering into our congregational life as outsiders and we’re simply assuming they know all the basics of both the Bible narrative and the way we do church.

 

Several years ago, we attended a church that had as a staff position, ‘Pastor of Assimilation’.  While there are negative aspects of the word ‘assimilation’, the position recognized the fact there were people who were potentially confused and the need to point them in the right direction.

September 4, 2014

Technology and Culture Shifts Further Marginalize the Poor

Filed under: social justice — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

It’s our first time in the United States in nearly two years and one of our greatest challenges remains trying to find a land line on which to make phone calls back to the mother ship. The U.S. basically trashed all the pay phones. They have disappeared completely from downtown streets, malls and train stations. You have to have a mobile phone here to survive. Or else.

Our cell phone is somewhat useless down here, though this time around we did purchase a ‘service pack’ which allows us to make a total of 20 minutes in calls, and allows us no data. It really cramps our style.

But I keep thinking of what it does to those who can’t afford a cell phone at all. Who can no longer call the 800-number for the government agency that might be able to help whatever challenge they are currently facing. Or call 911 in a crisis.

I was reminded of this when we were here a few years ago in the middle of the conversion from analogue television to digital television. You know who that impacted greatly? The poor. The people who could least afford to trash their old style TV sets for something new.

And the other thing we’re noticing this time around is how the casino is at the center of life for everyone in almost every town, whether they actually have a casino or not.  Gambling and lottery sales have been referred to as “a tax on the poor.”

Overall, I’m not impressed with how America treats its poor. I know the country presently faces some other challenges, including one very big one — the spectre of another war — but the two technology examples and the growth of the casino industry concern me greatly, as they should concern you.

I don’t like where I see this heading.

 

 

 

September 3, 2014

Wednesday Link List

The cartoon is from ASBO Jesus, which sadly isn’t being updated. The lower one appeared here about five years ago, and was from Pundit Kitchen.

They call it Labor Day because on Tuesday we all had to work twice as hard to catch up. Take a few minutes to pause and do some clicking:

Link sleuth Paul Wilkinson is also available for private investigations if there’s a link in your life that’s gone missing.  Or, for free, you can read his blog, Thinking Out Loud.

church and state from pundit kitchen

September 2, 2014

Francis and Lisa Chan on Marriage that Matters

A few days ago I was asked to recommend a marriage book for a couple who are not presently following Christ, but would understand the book was purchased in a Christian bookstore. Given the broad application of the advice it contains, I recommended Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, with The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman as a second choice.

You and Me Forever - Francis ChanIn many respects, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity would not be for the couple in question. The reason? This is spiritually hardcore; a book for the fully devoted follower, or the person (or couple) that desires to move things spiritually to the next level.

As the full title indicates, this is a book about looking at your marriage through the lens of eternity, or to put it another way, looking at the present with eternity in view. Francis leads the teaching, but Lisa weighs in with an identified, substantial contribution to each chapter.

I’m sure there are other reviews of this book out there, and there will be more, but I’m going to go out on limb here: I’m not sure this is a book about marriage at all. (Perhaps I just like to be provocative.) Rather, I think this is a book about making Jesus Christ Lord over every detail in your life that happens to come packaged disguised as a marriage book!

If you know the ministry of Francis Chan, you know what I’m getting at. Spiritually intense. That’s a good thing, by the way; I need that, you need that.

The challenge is that a marriage — especially a really, really good marriage — can be just the thing that actually separates you from God. Your children — especially your really good looking and super-intelligent kids – can stand between you and God. The book advocates a life that is totally sold out to Christ first and foremost; not “How to have a happy marriage.”

But as scripture promises, if you do that, “all these things will be added unto you.”

My best advice: Get two or three copies of the physical book; one for both of you to read either individually or together, and one or two additional copies to share with couples in your sphere of influence. (Click the book image above for more details.)

This book has the power to really shake things up.


If your local Christian bookstore doesn’t have You and Me Forever, let them know it’s available to stores wholesale exclusively through Send the Light Distribution.

September 1, 2014

Resting From Our Labors

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Here’s what’s going on here as we take a day off…

  • Tomorrow, a review of You and Me Forever co-authored by Francis Chan and Lisa Chan. This book is rich in scripture as it looks at the spiritual nurture of couples as being the most important thing. If your local Christian bookstore doesn’t carry it, tell them it’s only available wholesale through Send the Light Distribution.
  • Slow ChurchI’m currently reading Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus  by Christopher Smith and John Pattison. I don’t usually get InterVarsity Press books to review, so this is a rare delight, especially since I worked for IVP on two occasions (and two locations) in Canada. The book is an analogy to the “slow food” movement, popular in some parts of North America and beyond.  The publisher annotation reads, ” In today’s fast-food world, Christianity can seem outdated or archaic. The temptation becomes to pick up the pace and play the game. But Chris Smith and John Pattison invites us to leave franchise faith behind and enter the kingdom of God, where people know each other well and love one another as Christ loves the church.
  • Because of the holiday, the link list for Wednesday is already done. I appreciate those of you who send suggestions, and for PARSE, Leadership Journal, and Christianity Today for allowing it to reach a wider audience. The only problem is having to make you wait until Wednesday to read it.
  • wordpress_iconsSome of you know that I work in a Christian bookstore. We don’t have a lot of money, and it’s a fairly small town, so our website essentially bounces people to a WordPress blog, that serves the purpose. Last week a woman phoned to say she wanted to order the wall hanging we had advertised. I assured her we don’t do online commerce on our site, but as she described it, I realized that Christian Book Distributors (CBD) was paying WordPress for an advertisement to appear on our store blog. As if they don’t own enough of the market already. And as if this doesn’t raise some ethical questions. Say what you will about Amazon (and we do say things) CBD has been the cause of the demise of local Christian bookstores for more than two decades now; their damage really predates widespread use of the internet. We’re thinking of advertising that we’re now accepting orders from their site to fulfill here. They just have to copy and paste the shopping cart and email it to us, and then delete the cart. We figure what we lose on the deeper discount stuff we’ll make up where their discount isn’t really that great. (Their shipping charges to the frozen north are a flat 25%; which really adds to the price.)
  • Our youngest is back to school today. The Christian university he attends in Ancaster, Ontario supposedly reported a decrease in enrollment for this academic semester, but in three of his course selections, the classes were full. Not enough seats? Probably just profs that don’t want to mark more than a certain number of tests and essays. Really frustrating for us, because I want to help him with book costs but can’t, not knowing if he’s in certain courses or not. #overgrownhighschool  Parents: Really check out the schools your children are considering carefully. Schools: The parents of existing students can be your best advertising, or your worst nightmare.
  • c201bFinally, I just saw the August stats for our companion blog, Christianity 201. It’s truly growing quickly. Devotions and Bible studies are posted daily, including weekends, usually between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST. (It’s the afternoon blog, this is the morning blog.) Devotional writing that is based in scripture is actually really hard to find, so we’re always looking for people who already have a writing history online who would be willing to submit articles. We also have a regular, weekly contributor now, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon, whose writing style seemed a good fit for what we’re doing.

 

August 31, 2014

Night Out With The Girls

With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne. Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

Short Stories“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon. Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, it never ends well.”

- = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = -

Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

- = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = -

I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden. Not off to one side. Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way a year ago at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

Luke 11 23

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Although the original writers were not Christians, I do so much appreciate the musical Godspell because despite some glaring liberties, much of it stays true to the Bible text. In a song, “Learn Your Lessons Well,” there is a spoken portion that uses an adaptation of the text above from Luke 11, which is paralleled in Matthew 6: 21-23.

In an updated Broadway cast recording of the song posted on YouTube, this formerly spoken word passage was set to music. It almost doesn’t fit the rest of the song, it is so hauntingly beautiful; the section runs from 1:16 to 2:24. (I’d love to see this recorded as a separate entity.)

the lamp of the body is the eye,
if your eye is bad
your whole body will be darkness
and if darkness is all around
your soul will be doubly unbright
but if your eye is sound
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light
your whole body will be filled with light

Sitting at a computer — where else? — as I type this, the temptation to look at the internet’s dark side is always there. However, keeping this little song snippet in my mind has served on many occasions to prevent me from going down that road. And the phrase “doubly unbright” while grammatically questionable, has a way of sticking in your head. 

…Continue reading the rest of the article here

August 30, 2014

Methodology for Music Ministry

Yesterday we looked at some very superficial reasons which draw people into the larger music business with a hope that church musicians can understand their own music-personality type. Today we want to stay somewhat shallow in looking at the raw practicalities of drafting the music for Sunday morning.

treble clefFinding the recipe

If you look at a recipe, it’s always divided into two sections. First you have a list of ingredients, and then you have the instructions as to how you wish to use them. Worship planning is very similar. There’s a list of songs you want to use, but how do you blend and mix them? Perhaps there’s a song that is going to occur at the beginning and the end of the service. Possibly two songs might play off each other (i.e. How Great Thou Art and How Great is Our God). Some might stand alone, while others might combine into medleys.

Ingredients are key

You want to choose your ingredients carefully. Just as in baking, some elements might conflict. Some choices might be too spicy. Others might be too bland. In a salad, you go for color and music is no different. A seasoned worship leader will have about 5,000 songs in their head at any one time. Unless you get to plan a worship night, you’re probably only going to do about five songs. You have 4,995 songs to leave out.

What people are hungry for

Your job is to give people the means by which they can respond to God for his greatness and goodness, his holiness and majesty, his love and compassion; just to name a few. The songs should resonate with young and old, and therein lies a challenge. With different strains of ingredients (classic hymns, 20th century gospel hymns, Maranatha! Music, Vineyard, modern worship leaders, modern hymns, soaking music, Hillsong, UK-based songs, etc.) you can appeal to different demographics, or you can choose to present a more musically-unified selection. If you want to see a younger demographic, you also have to skew your choices to people who perhaps aren’t there yet. That’s risky, but some churches do this.

Appetizer or main course?

Some Evangelicals see the worship time as preparing the hearts of people for the teaching of the word. Some Evangelicals see the praise time more liturgically as valid on its own. I personally lean more to the second position. Still you want to know what the sermon topic is so your two selections don’t conflict.

Toppings

A worship time will be rather uneventful if it is just straight singing. You want to intersperse related quotations, read one of the verses before or after singing it, include quotations, or even do a “story behind the song” type of introduction. Many leaders default to Psalms, but some congregants tune them out. But there are exceptions; last week in our church the readings were all from the same Psalm and the songs chosen around that.

A shared meal

One of the values of corporate worship is that there are things we can do together that we can’t do alone (i.e. just listening or singing along with an album or Christian radio station at home.) The music should somewhat exploit the congregational dynamics. There should be some lively songs (by whatever parameter you measure that in your style of church) and there should be some songs where the beauty of blended voices can be both heard and felt.

When people like the recipe, don’t take credit

It’s very humble to say, “God gave me these songs this week;” but better to deflect the credit to the creators of the songs, or best, God Himself. “This is a new song, written by a musician who God is really using to stir us to deeper worship.” Or, “This song really focuses on God’s knowledge and wisdom and helps us consider how the ways of the Lord are so much beyond anything we could understand.” With opening statements like that it takes the focus away from you; you’re seen rather as a hunter and gatherer of worship that’s already out there.

We’re part of a much larger banquet

Occasionally, I would remind our congregation of the vast number of churches that were joining us in worship across our city, across our denomination, and in our nation; and then I would remind them that in North America, we occupy a place at the end of the timezones, joining a worship service that has been taking place around the world that weekend. Just thinking about that now, I am reminded of its potential to reshape how we approach worship.

So those are the superficial factors. But there are also some very spiritual considerations. That would make a great third part to this weekend series, but Laura covered that for us so well six weeks ago, I’m going to invite you to simply click here.

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