Thinking Out Loud

December 11, 2012

The Gifts We Bring

On October 30th, I was a guest blogger over at The Master’s Table, the blog of Clark Bunch. I decided to pick up on the ‘table’ theme and used that as a springboard to look at what it means to add value or substance to a situation where we find ourselves; the issue of conflict and unity in Christian community; and creating ministry environments and community where everyone is given a voice. You can read by clicking here, but I’ve also reproduced it below.

What Do I Have to Bring to the Table?

I don’t do a lot of formal meetings in the course of a year, but when they come up, I like to arrive prepared. If there are multiple people involved, sometimes I will say nothing for the first twenty minutes, looking for the idea that’s being missed, the implication that’s not being considered, the parallel to another situation that’s not being remembered. Then I will interject something that I feel is helpful. I want to make a contribution, not simply nod in agreement or call for the vote.

When moderating comments at my blog, I often tell people I’m looking for “value added” remarks. Something that furthers the discussion. If you attend one of those churches where the pastor still goes to the back door as you’re leaving, you’ve probably heard people say, “Good sermon;” the way the kids on the midget soccer team bump fists with the opposing team and say, “Good game.” It’s all very pleasant but it doesn’t say anything. Try something like, “As you were dealing with that chapter of Romans, it reminded me of this passage in Hebrews where…” Your pastor will probably collapse in shock. Adding value is a way of letting everyone know that you “get it.” That you’re willing to take it to the next level.

In a circle of Christ-followers, people will speak of “the gift of encouragement,” but true encouragement is more than saying “Good game;” it’s about building people up. When I was a weekly worship leader in a local church, I once asked our congregation, “What do you have to remember to bring with you on Sunday mornings?” Some people teach children and have to bring their lesson plan. Most bring their tithes and offerings. Some bring a casserole dish (full) for the church potluck or a similar container (empty) that they’re returning to someone who brought them a meal when they were ill. However, sometimes I think we need to bring a word, a thought, a concept, a scripture verse that will encourage someone, or the overflow of a book we’ve read or a sermon we downloaded that we can’t help but want to share with someone receptive.

Bringing something to the table is intentional. It’s part of a type of table fellowship where everyone gives and everyone receives. It’s about making the people who come in contact with you leave richer because you connected.

The problem that we have as Christ-followers sometimes is that nobody wants to make waves, or be the one who is simply rocking the boat. We want to avoid the friction created by challenging traditions and norms, so we tend to make contributions that we feel lead toward consensus. We’re basically asking the question,

Are We All on the Same Side of the Table?

One of the features of the Christian blogosphere is the way things tend to get very polarized. Issues become black-and-white, and people who postulate a different interpretation or a different take on one individual element of doctrine are immediately written-off.

The point is here is that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should be able to entertain differences while at the same time affirming our overarching unity in Christ. I can read something on Clark’s blog that I feel is totally wrong — and he on mine, though I can’t possibly imagine what it would be — and perhaps even suggest in a comment that not everyone shares his view. But I click back to see what subject he’s covering the next day.

Too many times in the body of Christ we shoot our wounded. The bottom line is that we all “see through a glass darkly.” We’re not going to be on the same side of the issue on every item on the agenda, but the person with whom I disagree the most at this moment may prove my greatest ally ten minutes from now. I think that’s also why it’s important to ask ourselves,

Is There Room at the Table for Others?

I love the equal opportunity that the blogosphere offers. People can, in fact paint graffiti all over my walls if they so desire. I see people coming and going all the time and in many respects, this ought to be the model of all Christian community, with what we call church (i.e. weekend services and midweek events) being but one expression of that community.

That’s why I love the vulnerability of pastors who have Q&A times at the end of their sermons. It invites even the first-time visitor to have a seat at the table and there’s nothing at all that they can state or ask that God’s Word isn’t capable of responding to. No comment or opinion cannot be deflected with the same ease that Jesus, when they were ready to stone him, demonstrated by disappearing into the crowd.

We don’t have to defend the body of doctrine by excluding people from the discussion; because ultimately, it’s His church, not ours; it is the master’s table.

February 28, 2012

Why Some Things Matter More Than Others

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

I really wrestled with what to run in this space today, but I decided to simply borrow the piece from Christianity 201, celebrating that blog’s 700th post yesterday, because I think it tells you a little more about who I am and what I believe to be important.


A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. (NLT)

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 700 posts at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3:12-15 –

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (NLT)

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian blogosphere, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while my Christian life and yours is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all in response to what Christ has done for us, we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

“…Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart…”


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October 15, 2011

Craving More of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Last weekend we were on a retreat at a Christian camp, and I suddenly had this strong desire to take off my clothes.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first something completely different…

“Some of you have had to have a medical procedure where you’re told that 24 hours beforehand you’re to stop eating solid food.  You may be a light eater generally, but once you’re told that can’t eat something, you find yourself really craving it.

“Then, they might tell you that for the last three hours prior to the procedure, you’re not to drink anything, either.  You’ve probably gone longer without quenching your thirst, but once you reach that no drink  stage, you suddenly find yourself aching for something in the beverage category.

“But the real kicker is when, five minutes before the procedure, they ask you stop breathing…”

And with that, several years ago, I introduced the song “Breathe” by the group Passion, reminding our church that while the first two situations — being denied food and drink — are achievable in the short term, we all need to breathe.  (Actually, Need to Breathe would be a great name for a band.)  We simply can’t live without oxygen, and so also we should be hungry and thirsty for God.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence
Living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word
Spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m lost without You

I relate this because this week we were at a Christian camp, and if you’ve ever been on the grounds of a Christian retreat or conference facility, you know there’s an unwritten rule that if you’re a guy, unless you’re swimming, skiing, windsurfing or water skiing, you’re supposed to keep your shirt on.

But Ontario experienced record high temperatures on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, with temperatures hovering close to 30 ° Celsius all three days, which for our metricly challenged American friends is around 78 ° Fahrenheit.  Beautiful sunshine.  No black flies, mosquitoes or bees.  No humidity. Reduced risk of sunburn in October.

I was craving maximum sunlight.  So I climbed up a hill to what the kids call “the mountain” and doffed my t-shirt and stretched out on a rock in nothing but shorts and let the sunshine vitamin soak in; in the process becoming a human solar panel, absorbing the rays at just the right angle.

And I started thinking about the warmth of God’s Spirit that we’re supposed to experience as part of what the Bible considers normal Christian living.

the warmth = the comfort of God’s spirit
the sunshine = the spiritual ‘nutritional benefit’ of God’s presence 

In a previous century, the songwriter talked about “Heavenly sunshine, flooding my soul with glory divine.” We express things differently today, but the principle is the same; food, drink, oxygen, the light of the sun; all these analogies in nature exist to remind us of our need for God.  A craving that is intended to be natural.

Just like a deer that craves
streams of water,
my whole being craves you, God.

Common English Bible Psalm 42:1

But none of this would have struck me, and my Vitamin D fix would not have been fulfilling had I not first climbed the mountain… but we wouldn’t want to add another metaphor, would we? 

In our culture, we really don’t know what it is to be physically hungry or thirsty.  There’s always a snack bar just around the corner.  Do we know what it means to truly be spiritually hungry? Have you ever experienced true spiritual hunger or thirst?

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