Thinking Out Loud

December 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Brother

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:05 pm

Brothers in Christ

Several years ago, a man several decades my senior bought me a birthday card. The card he looked for and then chose was one of those relative birthday cards that said, “Happy Birthday, Brother.” In case it needed saying, the idea was that I was his brother in Christ. He was putting us on equal terms.

In heaven, or whatever you choose to call the next chapter of eternal life, Moses, the Apostle Peter, John Wesley and I will be the same age. Brothers.

In You and Me Forever, Francis Chan tries to put across the idea of seeing your spouse in terms of eternity. To see him or her as a spiritual being whose existence transcends this life; goes beyond this world.

With an expenditure of only a couple of dollars, the birthday card helped me see an eternal truth that I knew to be true, but I had never internalized.

When the Apostle Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters,” at various points in his letters, he’s writing to people he knew, and he’s writing to me and you.

The eternal life we entered into when we decided to follow Christ transcends chronology as we know it.


To order the card shown at Pinterest, click the image.

 

December 7, 2014

I Am Mess

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.

In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:

27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.

Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.

Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:

  • the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
  • obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
  • lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
  • terrible stewardship over the use of time;
  • a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
  • neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
  • wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.

Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person! Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.

But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).

Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.

But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.

I John 1:9 reminds us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)

From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done. No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior. True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.

Posted jointly with Christianity 201

October 31, 2014

Parables Weren’t That Far Fetched

Filed under: bible, character — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

One thing about Jesus’ parables you can say for sure: The Good Samaritans and The Prodigal’s Parent represented the exception, not the rule. These stories would arrest the hearers in their tracks. But were they that big a stretch? We looked at that a few days ago at C201

Acts 1 8

You’ve heard of the story of The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines. There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype. But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself. After all she says,

NIV John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

Most of us think of the verse in terms of ever expanding distances from our home city, but the disciples would have heard something entirely different with the mention of Samaria

Most of us think of the verse in terms of ever expanding distances from our home city, but the disciples would have heard something entirely different with the mention of Samaria

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.


Christianity 201 | C201 | 365 Daily Devotionals since April, 2010

September 28, 2014

“We Don’t Go To Restaurants”

Eating Out

Depending on your social/church circle, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t go to restaurants;” or even use it yourselves. Usually there are one of three underlying convictions at work behind the statement:

  • a sort of righteousness associated staying away from those places; which presupposes that every Waffle House is a seedy sports bar
  • a financial decision based on good money management, and rigid budget, or a distinct savings goal like a new car or new house
  • a stewardship decision which is spiritual at its root, but is coupled with a personal assessment of what constitutes a poor use of funds

There’s no denying it, there’s little in a restaurant you can’t make at home much cheaper, and there are some categories where the restaurant makes huge profits, such as appetizers, side orders, and drinks both soft and hard. Of course, there are also things that you can’t make at home at all, and the wisdom of ordering something that’s too labor intensive, involves esoteric ingredients, or involves the use of techniques or cooking appliances you don’t own is often your best use of the time and money spent eating out.

Stewardship and wise financial management are both good goals, but in the first category, sometimes people over-spiritualize their passing on both fast food and slow food and do so in a way that leaves other feeling somewhat judged. The usually not verbalized response would be, “What, you go to Applebee’s? And you call yourselves Christians?”

It’s an almost Puritanical approach that usually also involves not going to movies or sporting events, ether; but can run to things like not purchasing a book or CD or treating yourself to a wall-hanging for the front hall.  In the extreme, it leaves no room for hobbies, recreation, or just plain fun; it denies the possibility of fun or even smiling, let alone laughing.

Let me be really clear, the financial reasons for staying away from fast food at lunchtime are valid, and the consequential behaviors resulting from stewardship are not to be condemned. You do better at the grocery store, and you do best shopping the outside aisles of the grocery store. However even there, I think people deserve a treat every now and then, and treat can be defined differently; like the couple we met at the burger joint who were there to celebrate their first anniversary.

So where does your household land the plane on this one?

Image: The Atlantic (click to link)

 

 

September 19, 2014

Book Review: The Grave Robber

“Everyone wants a miracle. But here’s the catch: no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! Of course, you can’t have one without the other.” (The Grave Robber by Mark Batterson, p. 14)

Grave Robber - Mark BattersonHe just keeps getting better.

I honestly can’t wait until Mark Batterson’s next book; I think he’s now firmly in my Top Five Authors circle, but for different reasons than the other four. He doesn’t go deep deep, but he does manage to get me thinking. If someone had simply never read a Christian book, then this is would be a good introduction, and hey, December 25th is approaching.

The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible is Mark Batterson’s tenth book as well has his first for Baker Publishing Group. It’s an exposition of the seven miracles recorded in John’s gospel; plus an eighth for those who are paying attention. Each miraculous event is given three chapters wherein Mark shares some context, lots of application, and some faith-building stories from his own life emerging from the discussion of each miracle. There are also some details in Grave Robber‘s retelling of these familiar stories that I had not heard or considered in a lifetime of going to church.

There’s a DVD Curriculum available as well, but a competent small group leader would have no problem generating seven weeks (or more) of discussion just by having people read the book. You could also read the book for study on John’s gospel, or devotionally.

Again, the book is very transparent; very personal. Mark is very realistic in his approach to increasing your faith. As an asthmatic who has longed for a healing, he knows what is like to pray and be prayed for and still not see the answer, yet this does not diminish his belief in God’s supernatural power in the least. This is therefore an excellent choice for someone who finds themselves in the middle of a season where perhaps hope seems lost, or God seems distant.

Jesus is pictured in the book’s pages as the Wine-Maker, Rule-Breaker, Water-Walker and Grave-Robber. You cannot escape encountering him as you read.

Coming this Spring: Regular Batterson readers are familiar with his son Parker, who is collaborating on a student edition of the book, releasing in March, 2015.

September 10, 2014

Wednesday Link List

From DailyEncouragement.net -- "...It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, 'Jesus Is The Light Of The World'."

From DailyEncouragement.net — “…It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English writing on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, ‘Jesus Is The Light Of The World’.”

This week we celebrate the ellipsis, its utility as connective device, and its overuse. In other words, many of this week’s links were related.

Each week we scour the web for stories of interest to Leadership Journal readers, however several of our “usual suspects” have put up pay-walls or added pop-ups that can only be described as obnoxious. The goal is to deliver news and opinion pieces with a minimum of interruption and solicitation. Suggestions are always welcomed, you can contact me on Twitter, or at Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM EST Mondays.

Paul Wilkinson is considered Canada’s foremost authority on writing a Wednesday Link List, and he doesn’t just say that because he writes his own footer for this weekly piece.

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we'll be visiting many times in the future

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we’ll be visiting many times in the future

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 26, 2014

This Book is Certainly not Overrated

I’ve been aware of Eugene Cho for several years though his blog and the charity he founded, One Day’s Wages.  As I opened the cover of his book Overrated, with the Superman-esque cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had me right from the first chapter as his family embarked on a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is adventure in social concern.

As the video trailer above so clearly expresses, many of us are more enamored with the idea of changing the world than we are with actually doing anything. As you read this, it’s probably one of many blogs you will peruse today where writers like myself might present you with a variety of topics. But making the decision to indulge 2-3 minutes on a subject that challenges our generation to respond is not the same as actually getting our feet wet or even making a donation.

Overrated - Eugene ChoThe subtitle is long enough to deserve a paragraph of its own: Are We More in Love With The Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

The book’s premise is that by talking loud but doing nothing, we are completely overrated in terms of our response to social injustice. I find it interesting that the medium that seems to lend itself most to our schizophrenic response also contains the word social as in social media. Like other issues — the problems in the local church come to mind — we’re very good at articulating the problem of global poverty, very adept at critique.

Much awareness has created the illusion of progress on this front.

So the book begins with Eugene and his family evacuating their home so they can lease it out to a tourist in order to meet a goal they had set for themselves to give one year’s wages. This meant camping out at friends’ houses, a vision that is a little more difficult to explain to your children.

As the best books are, this is one part biographical and one part teaching. The biographical narratives include the perspective of an Asian American, as well as his adventures as a church planter. 

So as to best prod us into action, Eugene Cho leads by example, and he share stories where others are picking up the torch and running with it. His personal ethic is not to ask anyone to do anything that you’re not prepared or willing to do yourself.  

That’s advice that applies not only to our response to the needs of the world, but to other areas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a video preview of the book

May 5, 2014

I’ve Landed a Role as an Understudy

In theory at least, you should get to know a little about the people whose blogs you read and follow, and I hope that’s the case here. I realized yesterday I’d never shared here a particular song from the 1980s which had a huge impact on me when I considered its ramifications. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on either blog. So if you’re in a hurry, skip down to the horizontal line and read the explanation, listen to the song and follow the lyrics. But I decided to include the entire setup here for those who want the context of how I got searching for the song yesterday at C201…

Part of our goal as Christians should be that we grow in our imitation of Christ.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. ~ Ephesians 5:1-2

In another book, the principle is the same, but Paul adds another dimension:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
~I Corinthians 11:1

The thing that struck me is that there are examples where the writers of New Testament scriptures take on the God-characteristics in relation to the the people they lead.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~ I John 2:1

I find it amazing that the apostle John refers to his audience here as my little children. He is taking on the heart of a father for his readers. This is not a prophetic word, because in the second part of the verse the Father (with a capital F) is distinct. Just as God regards us as his children, John feels that way toward the people to whom the epistle was written. Just a chapter later he again reminds us that we are God’s children:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. ~ I John 3:2

so he is affirming that we are all God’s children, but also, as a leader in the newly emerging Church, he takes a fatherly role of the people under his leadership.

The second similar passage is:

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; I Peter 5:2

Remember, Jesus himself says, “I am the good shepherd…” but Peter writes to leaders in the emerging church to themselves be shepherds of the flock. So yes, there is one Great Shepherd of the sheep, but Peter invites his co-laborers in ministry to live as shepherds also, and thereby defines pastoral ministry and eldership.


I also wanted to share something here only because I thought I had covered this already either here or on Thinking Out Loud, but it turns out I hadn’t. Stephen Crumbacher grew up around Hollywood, California and because of the proximity of the stage, film and television industry, he took the idea of being an imitator of Christ, and expressed it in terms of someone who is part of a theatrical or movie production as an understudy. This song has stayed with me since I first heard it in the mid-80s. This may not be your music style, but if it isn’t, just turn down the volume, read the lyrics and enjoy the brilliance of this appropriate analogy:

Well, I really have a shot
So I’m giving it all I’ve got
This is the break I’ve been waiting for.
Some say it isn’t so great
That it was hardly worth the wait
But at least I finally have one foot in the door.

I’m an understudy, got a long way to go.
I was once a nobody not a name you would know.
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

I’ve memorized my part
Learned my lines by heart
Gonna walk the script through page by page
Always do my best
And pray that I can stand the test
‘Cause I never know when I’ll be asked to take center stage

I’m an understudy, got a long way to go.
I was once a nobody not a name you would know.
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

None of know when we will be asked to take center stage, but hopefully we are prepared when God calls us to be his stand-in in someone else’s journey.

 

April 17, 2014

Should Christians Speak of “Mother Nature?”

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it.”

“Whether it’s cold
Or whether it’s hot
We’re going to have weather
Whether or not”

We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain. 1

… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:45)

In North America in terms of weather, this has been a rough winter, and possibly also where you live, but for different reasons. So it’s not surprising that many conversations over the past six months have been meteorology-related.

In Christian circles though, I’m always surprised to hear people speak of what “Mother Nature” has wrought. It seems contradictory that we would be monotheistic and yet invoke the possibility of a weather god, or weather goddess, even if in jest.

So what do I believe about the weather?

I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.”

So back to our subject.

The personification or anthropomorphizing of someone else or something else being in charge of the environment simply grates on my spiritual conscience. Sure, it’s said almost randomly when said by Christ-followers, but is it any different than the Greeks ascribing natural forces to a series of gods and goddesses each dealing with winds, and rains and heavenly signs?

In scripture this was Israel’s great failing. Their neighbors believed in gods that were specific to various aspects of life (but not all) and had power over a certain geographic area (but not all areas); and then they found themselves sometimes falling into the mindset of the dominant culture. (Thus the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one.”)

So how do we speak of the fury of natural forces unleashing tornadoes, hurricanes, ice-storms, great heat or other manifestations of extreme weather? I have no answer. I simply don’t want to confuse things — especially among those who have not crossed the line of faith but know that I have — by invoking either Mother Nature or Father Nature or Jupiter or anyone else.

What do you think?

Do you use this phrase in conversation?

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F.  Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F.   Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?” (The left picture was actually Bondi Beach.) Where I live, houses, cars and our collection of clothing has to withstand wind chill factors as low as -50 C (which was reached in Winnipeg several times this year, almost not needing the chill factor) and humidity index temps higher than +40 C.

1Classic hymn based on a poem published in 1782 and set to music in 1800; also the basis of the song All Good Gifts from the musical Godspell; section cited based on Psalm 147:16.

Surely, if Mother Nature had been consulted, she would never have consented to building a city in New Orleans. ~Mortimer Zuckerman

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