Thinking Out Loud

April 10, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Community Baptist Church

I’m a success at blogging but a failure at Twitter. Please follow me… please?

Any one of this week’s links could have been its own feature article.  By the way, I’m organizing a travel opportunity that begins in a Wesleyan college in western New York and ends in Jerusalem. I call it the Israel Houghton Tour.

Explaining Present Technology

February 22, 2013

David Gregory Makes it a Trilogy

Filed under: apologetics, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

Night With A Perfect StrangerAlthough there has been a publisher change between the second and third books, David Gregory’s Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger now has third companion title,  Night with a Perfect Stranger  (2012 Worthy Press hardcover).

I got to know David through the first two books, and then followed him to the nearly 400-page novel The Last Christian, which I reviewed here.  The first two books were also used as the basis of two movies, but with some significant plot changes. I explained the mapping of the two books to the two films here.

So it was interesting to follow David back to the much shorter (120 or so pages) format of the earlier titles.

I actually borrowed this book because I wanted to read it. I’m not aware of Worthy (the publisher) having any kind of review programs. So having mentioned it here let me use bullet points to highlight a few things:

  • The basic premise you have to agree to is that Jesus can appear to people today in the flesh. Yes, of course you disagree that this happens, but you need to suspend that issue to enjoy the book.
  • While this continues to be “apologetics fiction,” the main theme here is the nitty gritty of living the Christian life, of keeping up the zeal we have at major turning points when spiritual disciplines or church life become routine.
  • Tied to this is the nature of God’s dealings with us and the nature of God’s presence.
  • Like the first book — but not the second — there is more appeal here to the male reader, but not at the expense of women who will enjoy this as well.
  • This one is less static; there are more locations; there is more action.
  • There is a fun reference to “that book where God is an African-American woman,”  and readers of “that book” and others like it will enjoy this.
  • The back cover of the book, above the bar code, doesn’t indicate the title as fiction which, in terms of literary genre, it clearly is. Not sure why.

At $14.95 U.S., hardcover gift books like these are not cheap, but they are certainly worth giving to the right person who is struggling with a present Christian life that doesn’t equal past Christian experiences; or is simply longing, as we all do, for something more.

October 19, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Not the most focused list this week — certainly nothing like the one two weeks ago — this one is rather random.  But it will take you to places you might not otherwise have visited…

  • Jeff Fischer guests at Near Emmaus and suggests that Adam — as in Book of Genesis Adam — is actually a metaphor.
  • Tom wants to ban the use of the word ‘church’ in North America for five years.
  • The ever provocative Mark Driscoll apparently preached a sermon titled God Hates You, so Sarah wants him to know that, despite this, God loves him.
  • It’s bad enough getting hate-filled comments at your blog, but even worse when you trace the IP address back to what is almost surely someone from your former church.
  • Bible aficionado J. Mark Bertrand spends some time sniffing the pages of The Arion Press NRSV Bible which is actually too heavy to be carried in the processional.
  • Jennell Williams Paris — who never met a topic she couldn’t tackle — thinks online dating sites are appropriate for Christians.  But Leslie Ludy disagrees strongly.
  • Another one of those articles promoting the idea of not delaying marriage, i.e. marrying young.
  • Kent Shaffer profiles the Water of Life filtration system being implemented by Compassion International.  This one works with water sourced from less desirable places than water obtained from wells.
  • Matt attends the Catalyst Conference and walks away feeling uncomfortable about the idea of ‘big church’.
  • Jesus said we could ask for anything and He would do it, but it’s hard to see results while we maintain traces of doubt that would appear to nullify the offer. So what did Jesus mean?
  • When his 28-year old gay son arrives at a midweek meeting with his boyfriend, the pastor yells “Sic ‘em,” as the two are kicked and punched. (Note: This source isn’t a Christian blog, but I feel we need to be aware what is taking place and how it is perceived.)
  • A Wiccan claims she learned all about astrology from C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy series.   (Note: This one ain’t a Christian blog either, or even close, but again, if you’re open to reading, the first seven or eight paragraphs will give you an idea of how some people view the world.)
  • Christian bookstore owners find out why the DVD series based on Janette Oke‘s eight book Love Comes Softly series suddenly has a # 9 and a #10.
  • I’m not sure who the Reeds are, or how they originally got on my blogroll, but Joe Reed’s family of missionaries in South Africa got robbed this month, which can take awhile to sort through.
  • I guess that wraps up this week, except for the weather forecast: Slightly overcast with a chance of passing showers, but we don’t expect the rain to last –

August 16, 2011

The Well by Mark Hall Turns John Chapter Four On Its Head

John’s gospel, chapter four.  Some of you might even have it memorized.  Jesus.  A Samaritan woman.  A conversation of at high noon.  We call the story, “The Woman at the Well.” 

But Jesus promises her living water.  He tells her that he is that living water.  The structure they are standing beside is just a hole in the ground.  He — Jesus — is the well.  We should call it “The Woman Who Spoke to a Well.”

That’s my paraphrase.  And that’s just my takeaway from the first chapter of Mark Hall’s book The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty? (Zondervan).  Additional insights from the lead singer and road pastor of the Christian music group Casting Crowns tumble out of each successive chapter.  And I don’t believe in packing book reviews with spoilers, so you’ll have to get the book. 

The Well would certainly suit any Casting Crowns fan, but this is a book that really transcends age or level of spiritual maturity.  There’s enough here for everyone.  Having said that however, I really hope that, with its straightforward writing style, The Well finds a market among teens and twenty-somethings.  I know some stores will stock this in the music section, but it needs to be in the youth section as well.

But also in the self-help section.  As Hall points out, the problem stated in the book’s subtitle is that we tend to look for hope and help from substitute wells — approval, control, resourcefulness, talent, entitlement; looking for “something else,” even religion — instead of looking to The One who is The Well.

When I finished the book, I immediately started in again, reading four chapters out loud in our family devotional time.  We really liked an insight into the time, just before his ascension, Jesus builds a fire to cook fish.  A detail I’d missed.  And will never miss again.  But you’ll have to get the book.

This one’s a keeper.

The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty? by Mark Hall with Tim Luke publishes the first week in September from Zondervan in paper at $14.99 U.S.

April 23, 2011

Stuck in Saturday: Pete Wilson

I remember reading this section when I read Pete Wilson’s book Plan B, and so when Pete blogged it this weekend, I knew it was the perfect post for Saturday here as well.  The following is just a preview; you’ll have to click this link to read the whole article in context, which I hope you’ll do right now.

It was Friday, remember, when Jesus was crucified.  But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they moved into Saturday.

I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk a lot about Saturday in the church.  We spend a lot of time talking about Good Friday, which of course we should.  This is the day redemption happened through the shedding of Christ’s blood.  It’s a very important day.

Nobody would argue that Easter Sunday is a day of celebration.  We celebrate that Jesus conquered death so that we can have life.  It doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday.

But we don’t hear a lot about Saturday do we?

Click here to pick up this section in context.

April 21, 2011

Judas’ Betrayal versus Peter’s Denial

Judas.

Peter.

Who screwed up most?

Does it matter?

This week I’ve been reading a classic, The First Easter, by Peter Marshall.  It’s written in a style that actually reminds me so much of Rob Bell’s writing.  I’ve been reading out loud as part of our family Bible study, and I’ve divided into seven sections of about twenty pages each.  Last night was the middle part, which seemed to portray clearly great remorse on Judas’ part.

I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood… Jesus of Nazareth.  He had done nothing amiss.

In a piece at the CNN Belief blog, Craig Gross discusses this topic in great detail.  He describes asking his Facebook network if they believe Judas is in heaven or hell today?  The first response is dogmatic.

Judas is in hell today.  He’s been there for 2,000 years and he’ll be there forever.

Craig is not impressed.  He notes how convinced everyone is that their view is correct.  As if it matters.   I know there have been times in my life where I denied the Savior.  Maybe not as overt as Peter.  And I’m sure if I look there have been times where, by some mis-step, some mis-statement, some inflection or even laughter, I have betrayed the cause of Christ.   Perhaps not with the same historical significance, but then, who is to say?  Craig reminds me:

It is easier to debate these issues and make speculations about others than it is to actually look at ourselves in the mirror. It is always easier to think someone else is worse off then we are.

I guess my greater concern is how all of this puts the focus on the wrong person.  Judas or Peter are not what this weekend is all about.  It’s all about Jesus.  It always has been.   It’s a time to gaze deep into the eyes of the suffering Christ and through His pain, see Him reflecting back lavish amounts of love.  To me.  To you.

Allow nothing to take the focus off where it belongs.  It was our sin — just as bad or worse than Peter’s or Judas’ — that put Jesus on the cross, but He willingly allowed this to give us a future and a hope.

Allow the love of Jesus Christ to overwhelm you in the next 96 hours as we remember His death, and His triumph over death.

January 31, 2011

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Parts

I had an interesting conversation after church yesterday.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

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.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc.  We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally.  That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way.  I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now.  The place we call home.  My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings; just as I thought my wife was getting take-out today, and she thought I was going to meet her at the fast food place.  (We ended up eating at home.)

So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds.  (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

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.)

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.

And perhaps, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria is modern-day Jerusalem.

January 30, 2011

God Meets Us in Our Greatest Burdens

Lets Have a Bible Study!
On Thursday, I posted the results of a U.S. pastor’s congregational survey of the “burdens” that members of his church identified as things they were dealing with.  Later that day, I considered the list in the light of a particular scripture verse in Isaiah, and posted my thoughts at Christianity 201. I’m reprinting it here not because it’s one of my best posts or an example of my finest writing, but because it basically shows my Bible study process taking place.  Some simple steps here — not in order — include (a) checking the context; (b) using multiple translations; (c) using study Bible notes; and (d) using Bible commentaries.  And of course, (e) asking blog readers for their suggestions!


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

January 12, 2011

Wednesday Link List

A rather bizarre lynx links list this week if I say so myself…so we brought back the Iberian Lynx for only the second time ever…

  • Tomorrow, this blog is one of the stops on a blog tour promoting W. P. Campbell’s book, Turning Controversy Into Ministry, a study of the church’s response to homosexuality.  I’ll be reviewing chapter ten, a pivotal chapter that kicks off the practical part of the book, Section III.
  • The video to watch this week is the young Lutheran boy who really gets down to preachin’ it in Jesus in Every Book of the Bible.
  • Top blog post this week — but it will take you a few minutes — is Darlene Parsons’ excellent analogy concerning cilantro and legalism.  Well written with a sharp taste just like the herb in question.  Don’t miss this.
  • At Q-Blog, Andy Couch brings a list of the top ten cultural trends of the last decade includes a few that may surprise.
  • Apparently signs at church exits stating, “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field” are more widespread than I realized.
  • Shane Claiborne visits a Christian bookstore only to find it freshly stocked with military merchandise and regalia. “Studies show that not only is the institutional church hemorrhaging economically, but the Christian industrial complex is in really bad shape…”
  • And in a somewhat related post, Shaun Groves gets ready to record his first studio album in five years, and carefully notes the way the Christian music industry has changed.
  • I’ve heard this story presented as a sermon illustration, but didn’t know there was actual video available. It should be called ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway,’ because over a thousand people were asleep at the switch. Watch for a few minutes before reading the full story.
  • Zac Hicks thinks that worship leaders have a major obligation to present orthodox theology. “A great place to start is by studying the attributes of God, and particularly His incommunicable attributes (those characteristics of God which he does not share with humanity).”  Read more and bookmark this site if you are responsible for weekend worship in your community.
  • Ron Edmondson’s 10-year-old son figures when we get to heaven, they’ll have “one contemporary service and one traditional.”  Ron’s not so sure.
  • Think before you answer this one:  Did Jesus ever get the flu?  You might be surprised at Russell D. Moore’s answer.
  • Here we go again:  A Canadian Senator wants to criminalize spanking children.  Be sure to read the anecdote that Michael Coren relays before you think this isn’t a major issue.
  • Are dead birds falling from the sky a sign of the end times?  Former Left Behind movie actor Kirk Cameron thinks a reporter would do better to call a veterinarian.
  • True, Steve Saint is the son of South American missionary martyr Nate Saint; but also has an identity that’s all his own that springs from his own response to events that January day in 1956.  Such as working for Mission Aviation Fellowship.  Including going back to the same tribe that killed his father.  Lately, he’s been busy building a flying car.  Yes, you read that right.
  • If you enjoyed yesterday’s top Christian books chart here yesterday, you’ll really enjoy the U.S. Top 100 Christian Books for 2010 posted at Michael Hyatt’s blog.
  • The Toronto Star profiles Aiden Enns and his unusual Christian magazine, Geez, a faith magazine for the unchurched.  (Geez is the name that won out over Cripes.  Seriously.)   Enns got the idea for the magazine while working for Adbusters.
  • Here’s a video link to a great Sonicflood song from a couple of years back: Psalm 91.
  • Most comments indicated that this editorial on all things Crystal Cathedral was a miss more than a hit.
  • The Bible makes it into Gasoline Alley.  Not in a good way, though. At the blog The Comics Curmudgeon, a post last week focused on spiritual themes and noted in this case, “Gasoline Alley has continued its attempt to ditch its goody-goody image by dabbling in blasphemy. Today [Jan 5] it suggests that the Holy Bible is best used as a weight-loss aid.”  See for yourself:

  • Then again, I thought we needed a better note to end this week’s list on, so seeing it’s just a few days past Epiphany, this one from Sacred Sandwich seems to be timed just right:

December 16, 2010

Why People Love to Argue Noah, Jonah and Adam

Okay, I’ll say it.

While I have no reason to doubt the Biblical accounts I learned as a child, my faith journey is not contingent on whether David killed a giant with a slingshot (I think he did) or Joshua blew a trumpet and and the walls of Jericho fell (I think he did and they did) or whether Jesus put mud in a man’s eyes and then he could see (which I not only think he did, but think that belief on that one becomes a bit more central.)

But there are many people who love to argue these points.   The reason is simple:

  • If it should turn out that the Bible narrative is true, then that would make the Bible authoritative in other areas of life.
  • If the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, then that would require some kind of response from its hearers/readers.
  • That response would require a change in lifestyle; a change in priorities.
  • Many people, simply don’t want to make those changes.

So it’s easier for them to look at you and say, “You don’t really believe that Joshua prayed and God halted the earth’s rotation, resulting in more than 36 continuous hours of daylight, do you?”   A discussion that’s motivated more by the love of sin and not having to deal with accountability than it is with science.

And if you’re honest, you’ll probably say that while you do believe that God can (and did) cause the sun to stand still, that’s not what your faith journey, your God’s-love-receiving,  your Christ-following, your Spirit-indwelling, etc., is all about.

Because let’s face it:  While the children’s department of Christian bookstores is packed with stories about Jesus feeding 5,000 men or walking on water, Elijah being fed by ravens, and Daniel’s lack of appetizing characteristics to the large felines; the adult Christian living section of the same bookstore is relatively sparse on those particular narratives.

So what’s the deal?   Maybe, just maybe…

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that a guy named Jonah lived inside a whale — sorry, ‘large fish’ — for three days do you?” is actually carrying on an illicit affair with a guy in the warehouse.   If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The guy who says, “You don’t really believe that Noah and all those animals lived on board a yacht — sorry, ‘large boat’ — for a full year do you? is actually transferring money from an advertising account to a bogus consulting company which is actually a personal bank account.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that stuff about God creating Adam and then taking one of his bones — sorry, ‘large rib’ — to create a woman do you? is actually getting her son to purchase ecstasy for her from a dealer in his high school.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

For some of us, here’s the 411:

  • The Bible is authoritative and reliable in what it says; there’s no picking and choosing; you either trust the book or you don’t.
  • We have heard and listened and chosen to respond to God’s offer of love and forgiveness, of which whales, arks and Adam’s ribs is but a small part — the realm of the miraculous — in a much, much larger ‘love letter’ to His creation.
  • This has changed our perspective, our worldview, our priorities and values; a change that can be seen by people who knew us before vs. after or know how we live in contrast to the larger society around us.
  • While we’re far from perfect, we think we’ve got the hottest news on the rack and want you to share in both what we’ve learned and the grace we’ve received.

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