Thinking Out Loud

September 25, 2014

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

I’ve written about this before, but was reminded again after reading an article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, the newest page launched a few days ago by Christianity Today. He called it, Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

It begins:

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Related:

March 10, 2013

In 94 Seconds, Everything That’s Wrong in the Church

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:54 am

This item is about a 94-second video, but I’m not going to embed it here because it is simply too repulsive to put on this blog. You can follow the link at the bottom.

I would like to think that it’s a joke, but it’s not. The guy on camera is dead serious and truly believes his greatest potential for God’s kingdom could be realized in making a short, angry video. The anger isn’t overt, but it’s there. Trust me, you’re better dealing with this guy at a video’s link than you would be in person. That would get unpleasant. 

This is what happens when people are just smart enough to sound articulate, but not smart enough to know when to shut up. This is spiritually bullying.

True, he’s only one guy; but he is representative of very many. The type of people who would rather argue over doctrine than deal with a spiritually dying world. Who would rather be remembered for what their faith isn’t instead of what it is. Who think God is somehow pleased with their offering of spiritual bigotry. Who believe they are scoring points for their denominational brand, a brand that loses stock value each time they post another upload.

The creator of this video is just a guy with a small following. But as a ‘type,’ he’s the reason your neighbors don’t want to go to church with you. He’s the reason your relatives don’t want you to give them Bibles for gifts. He’s the reason your colleague at work doesn’t want to get into a faith discussion.  He’s the reason your teenage kids are counting the days until faith is an option.

This video is representative of thousands of similar ones, and tens of thousands of blogs and websites. And should you agree with its premise, that’s fine for right now, but if you find yourself on the opposite side of the table as this guy on some other doctrinal issue, you don’t want to know what he thinks of you.

This is the work of Satan, masquerading as a theological or doctrinal statement. It’s purpose is create division.

This is what it looks like when a man pours gasoline on a fire.

February 24, 2013

5 Years of Blogging: What Really Matters

Blog AnniversarySo what have we learned so far? I can’t speak for “we” but I can speak for “me.”

First of all, God has a very large, very diverse family here. Even the most prominent are but a very tiny piece of much larger puzzle. And we can be puzzling at times. We have to learn to see those who believe differently on peripheral issues not in terms of the differences, but in the light of our agreement on the core principles of our faith.

Second — and this is related — only a few of us ever attract attention. Some make the headlines for good reasons, and some for activities not so God-honoring. But the great majority of those of you (us) who follow Christ do so “in your small corner, and I in mine.” We quietly work out what it means to be kingdom people. We try not to be star-struck.

Third, our best hope of kingdom living, our best desire to do what The Book says we should do is constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the church culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the church culture wants to take our simple faith and make it into religious observance.

Fourth, the western church is totally corrupted by materialism and success. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world.

Fifth, for the most part, even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. Far too much — including what you’re reading right now — is being written that doesn’t start with scripture or isn’t rooted in Bible text. (The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text.) Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. This is an area where I have failed. We have too much stuff. But people who have their suitcase packed are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but I’ve heard of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go.

Ninth, we need to stop always characterizing behavior in terms of right and wrong, and recognize that in many cases, missing the mark means missing God’s best. While sin is sin with God — He has no gradients — we need to think in terms of: good, better, best. Then we should work to promote and practice the best but not alienate those currently settling for the good (or less).

Tenth, we need to do what Henry Blackaby calls ‘coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is at work.’ We need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. We need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

~Paul Wilkinson

January 5, 2013

Five Reasons to Church Hop This Week

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Church HoppingHey! I didn’t write this. Maybe I wish I had. Credit goes to Kirra at the blog Thoughtful. (Click the title to link.) While some people consider church-hopping to be some type of rampant plague or scourge, the point is that most people are very faithful to their faith family week-in, week-out. This was written to encourage them just to one-time consider a one-off visit somewhere else. Is that such a bad thing?

5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Different Church Next Week

If you’ve been attending the same church for more than a year or two, it might be time to visit another church next Sunday.  This isn’t a permanent change but just one Sunday to do something different.

When we go to the same church for years, we get comfortable.  We know the people, we know the songs, and we know the church.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good for us to leave what makes us comfortable once in a while.  There are many good reasons to visit a different church once in a while. Here are five.

1.  Remember what it was like to be a guest.  If you’ve been attending the same church for a long time, you may not remember well what it is like to attend a church for the first time.  You don’t know anyone.  You don’t know if the place you chose to sit if that space is someone’s “spot.”  Will they serve communion?  How will they serve communion?  Will you know any of the songs they sing?  When you visit a new church and then come back to your home church, hopefully you will find yourself more sensitive to those who are attending your church for the first time.

2.  Appreciate a different style of worship.  If your church sings hymns, try one that has a praise band.  This is not just about music; if your home church is casual, try out a church that is a little more formal or liturgical.  Put on a tie or a dress.  Church can be done in many different ways; you don’t have to love the new style, but learn to appreciate the different ways the church worships.

3.  Get a different perspective.  If you’ve been listening to the same one or two preachers for a while, listen to someone else’s teaching.  You might not agree with everything they say, but sometimes the best way to sharpen your beliefs is to consider the ideas that you disagree with.  On the other hand, you might learn something that you find rings true that you’ve not heard taught before.  Just be sure to weigh carefully what you hear, whether at new churches or your home church.

4.  See what other churches are doing.  Observe their methods, programs, and activities.  How do they do Sunday School?  Do they order the service in a way that seems more conducive to worship?  If you see something you especially like that you think could work at your church, approach the leadership and humbly offer your suggestion.

5.  Recognize the body of Christ is all over the world and all over your city.  The people at the church you choose to visit may be strangers, but we are all going to be sharing heaven together.  Christ only has one body.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

April 19, 2011

An Unceasing Anguish for the Lost

I find myself always introducing people to the ministry of Francis Chan, author of Forgotten God and Crazy Love.  This message has been posted online in various forms and from recordings in various locations.  This clip is about 15 minutes — it’s the second time this YouTube poster has put it up in some format — but it’s 15 minutes that could change your day.   Just let this roll and do whatever else you need to do online.  There’s a lot of discussion you can get from hearing this message excerpt.

October 11, 2010

Philip Yancey: God Is What’s Good

Yes.   I am biased.

Upon first reading The Jesus I Never Knew on a fall day fifteen years ago, I knew I had found a favorite author.   So with great anticipation I looked forward to What Good is God (FaithWords) which releases officially on October 19th.   I was not disappointed.   This is a different book; it has a rhythm and cadence all its own; it is a book which will stretch any who read it, including Yancey aficionados like myself.

The format is quite different.

Divided into ten parts, each part contains two chapters which focus on a particular group of people, and a particular place in the world.   This is a travelog of sorts, and while you don’t have to spend the time in airport waiting rooms as did the author, you feel like you’ve earned some frequent flyer points by the time you turn the last page.

The first chapter in each of the ten sections describes Philip Yancey’s journey to a diverse set of places.    As a journalist, travel ignites his writing.   It also introduces the reason that finds him where he is in his role as a speaker.  The second chapter in each of the sections is in fact the text of a speech (or in one case, a sermon) given to a diverse group of people.

But I didn’t know that ahead of time.

So the second chapter of the first part totally ambushed me.   I am familiar with the feeling of tears welling up as one approaches the ending of a good book.   I did not expect that to happen so soon as it did in the first part, with the text of Yancey’s address to the student body of Virginia Tech just days after the shooting there left more than a dozen fatalities, and just a few more days since Philip Yancey’s own traffic mishap in Colorado left him close to either death or paralysis.

In the sections that followed are speeches to business leaders in China, sex trade workers and the people who minister to them,  the student body at his old Bible College, a Charismatic church in South Africa and members of the C. S. Lewis Society in Cambridge, England, an AA meeting, Christians in India and the middle east; and many others.  These are speeches and addresses you and I would never get to hear, and would never be drawn to read were it not for the set-up in the previous chapter.

But what of the book’s title?

I believe the title prepares you more for something along the lines of a response to today’s militant or “New” atheists.   Perhaps the marketing department at the publisher had something like that kind of hook in mind.   However, the book doesn’t deliver along the lines of apologetics, and while I wasn’t at all let down, I hope purchasers will be appraised about its true content before they buy.

Rather, through its series of narratives, the book demonstrates that if anything, God is what’s good in the world.   That on a global scale, Christianity is making a difference and on a personal level, this is a faith that works. The answer to the question the book’s title asks is found in the way that the Christian God infuses every area of life, especially those places of hurt and pain. This is Reaching for the Invisible God meets Where is God When it Hurts.    Or maybe The Bible meets your morning newspaper.

Still, seeking resolution to the book’s title promise, I turned over the final page and immediately rushed back to the introduction.   If I were not a believer, not a Christ follower, how would all these stories answer the title question?

Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.”  Engineers design wonderful new products:  iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices.   But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers in the real world?  What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk?  Will the device still work?

I look for similar tests in the realm of faith.  My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague…

When I spend time among such people, my own faith undergoes a tabletop test.   Do I mean what I write from my home in Colorado?…

I must admit, my own faith would be much more perilous if I knew only the U.S. church, which can seem more like a self-perpetuating institution.   Not so elsewhere.  Almost always I return from my travels encouraged, my faith buoyed…

If a person had never read Philip Yancey before is this book a good place to start?   Probably, I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? For the rest of us, don’t miss this unique piece of writing from Philip which is, truly, as big as the whole world.

The full title is What Good is God:  In Search of a Faith that Matters (Faith Words, hardcover, 287 pages, October 19, 2010; $23.99 US/$26.99 CAN)

Photo:  Randal Olsson – The Christian Post

August 21, 2010

We Are God’s People

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

In discussions of modern worship, the subject of “new hymns” comes up, describing pieces that are contemporary, but written in a “hymn style,” that is, the traditional verse-chorus, verse-chorus form.

One such piece — which was old enough to make it into some of the hymnbooks that got published, but new enough not to contain archaic language — is Bryan Jeffrey Leach’s 1976 composition,  “We Are God’s People.”

This is also one a few songs that truly celebrates the church itself;  striving for unity but recognizing that the body of Christ is made up of many parts.

Unfortunately, despite the glut of church choirs and congregations on YouTube, there is not a recording of the entire hymn anywhere to be found.  The tune is a little angular — this is what some would call an anthem and it uses a classical melody — but maybe someone out there can pair these lyrics to something that works with guitar, because this song has a great message.

We are God’s people, the chosen of the Lord,
Born of His Spirit, established by His Word;
Our cornerstone is Christ alone, and strong in Him we stand:
O Let us live transparently, and walk heart to heart and hand in hand.

We are God’s loved ones, the Bride of Christ our Lord,
For we have know it, the love of God out-poured;
Now let us learn how to return the gift of love once given:
O Let us share each joy and care, and live with a zeal that pleases Heaven.

We are the Body of which the Lord is Head,
Called to obey Him, now risen from the dead;
He wills us be a family, diverse yet truly one:
O Let us give our gifts to God, and so shall His work on earth be done.

We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place,
Formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace;
We die alone, for on its own each ember loses fire:
Yet joined in one the flame burns on to give warmth and light, and to inspire.

Words by Brian Jeffery Leech, 1976
Music by Johannes Brahms, 1877, Tune: Symphony

Turns out this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this song on this blog; here’s where my thoughts were at two years ago on the subject of spiritual honesty and transparency.


June 21, 2010

Masturbation and the Consequences of Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you ever find yourself internally conflicted?   Paul said,

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

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

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


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

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

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

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