Thinking Out Loud

June 20, 2014

Gauging the Spirituality of Others by Superficialities

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you read The Message, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  (I Timothy 4:12, somewhat altered)

Good News bibleYesterday I had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me quite plainly that her Christian friends look down on her because she reads and memorizes verses in the Good News Bible (aka Today’s English Version).

This should raise all kinds of red flags.

First of all, it denigrates the translation itself. As BibleGateway.com‘s writeup states, “The GNT is a highly trusted version.” The American Bible Society continues to support the translation with fresh printings and formats.

But more important, it concerns me that her “friends” feel the need to implement correction in terms of her Bible reading choice. In other words, there is an attitude of superiority here, either in terms of their knowledge of what is the best Bible for her, or in terms of their own personal piety or spiritual maturity.  In Romans 14 we read:

4Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.

(Quoted, just for good measure, from the Good News Translation.)

There are so many things one’s choice of translation doesn’t tell us about the person. How often to they read it? How much time do they spend in the Word in each reading? How are they allowing the seed of God’s Word to take root in their life?

Good News for Modern ManWhy do we judge?

Why do we sometimes seem to want to judge?

Honestly, we don’t know the heart of another. Even our closest friends. I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7b…I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

But God is concerned with the heart.

I got the impression that her “friends” wanted to present a caring attitude, but were perhaps looking for a vulnerability or a weakness because they possibly see her as more spiritual than they are, and by knocking her down a peg or two, they were elevating themselves.

Still, in a “NIV versus ESV” Evangelical environment, it was nice to see someone voting for the Good News Bible.

 

August 27, 2013

Everybody Wants “Daily Bread” But Nobody Wants to Bake the Loaf

When a Bible's well usedThe Devil's not amused.

When a Bible’s well used
The Devil’s not amused.

This is a recurring theme with me, so apologies to those of you who’ve read this theme here before…

Finding material for the Christianity 201 blog is a daily challenge. In all the great din of Christian voices on internet websites, chat rooms, forums and blogs, a lot of what is being written is completely devoid of any quotation, reference or allusion to Bible text. That’s fine. I know there are people whose faith shapes their politics, their ethics, their environmental views, their economic principles… and by virtue of that whatever they write still constitutes writing from a Christian perspective.

The thing is, I keep thinking there ought to me of more of this kind of writing online:

  • The other day some friends and I were sitting around the coffee shop discussing the various ways of interpreting the scripture that says…
  • I was reading my Bible last week and I was drawn to the part where Jesus says…
  • Yesterday, I realized that there are actually a number of different shades of meaning to the verse that talks about…
  • On Sunday, our pastor shared a message which showed the link between an Old Testament passage and this one from the New Testament…

You get the idea.

The other thing is that a lot of what’s available right now that does begin in scripture is very shallow, very superficial or very short. The popular (in North America, at least) Our Daily Bread readings usually begin with a verse, followed by a contemporary story which takes up about half the printed space. A great illustration is not a bad thing — Jesus used them — but as an adolescent, I remember tuning in for the stories during dinner time readings of ODB, and then tuning out the concluding paragraph. (I would have been voted least likely to ever be doing what I’m doing now.)

Or then there’s the current, rather inexplicable popularity of the Jesus Calling devotional. Since the blog Rumblings is now over the 100-comment mark on this little book, I’ll simply refer you there; suffice it to say that you might get more devotional content in a fortune cookie.

To avoid the hypocrisy of not including a verse here, and to present something more positive as an ending to this, I offer Acts 17:11

  • NLT And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.
  • The Voice The Jewish people here were more receptive than they had been in Thessalonica. They warmly and enthusiastically welcomed the message and then, day by day, would check for themselves to see if what they heard from Paul and Silas was truly in harmony with the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • The Message  They were treated a lot better there than in Thessalonica. The Jews received Paul’s message with enthusiasm and met with him daily, examining the Scriptures to see if they supported what he said.

People who don’t understand the changes that have taken place at Willow Creek in Chicago over the past few years often chastise the church for offering ‘Christianity lite.’ These days, the seeker-sensitivity has been modified after surveys reveals that seekers wanted to listen to teaching with their Bibles open on their laps; the scriptures fully engaged.

If a visual image of the Christian involves ‘the towel and the basin,’ I nominate for runner-up a person with their nose buried in the Bible they hold in one hand, and a notebook and pen in the other.

link to Christianity 201

Disclaimer: Our Daily Bread, published by Radio Bible Class is a great way to begin or end your day. The problem comes if it’s your only source of Bible input for that day, or if you never do the full suggested reading, or if you’ve been a Christian for many years and have never graduated to other types of Christian reading that offer more depth.  Ditto The Upper Room devotional, published by the United Methodist Publishing House.

Background note: I mentioned North America. In the UK, for years, very similar-looking booklets existed that were actually quite different. Every Day With Jesus written by the late Selwyn Hughes and published by Crusade for World Revival (CWR), offered a 60-day intensive study of a single theme. (Many people in North America can’t tell you most days what their daily reading was about.) Furthermore, instead of free distribution, readers were expected to pay, which means they were financially invested. EDWJ collections are still available offering a year’s worth of readings, or six two-month studies.

February 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Praise Him In The Hallway

  • Napkin Thelogy: If you can communicate it better with a quick drawing, why not?
  • Just like universities agree to honor some of each others credit courses, four Reformed denominations and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed to honor each others infant baptisms. (For some this confirms that the CRC denomination is not evangelical.)
  • Here’s how some churches look at the issue of copyrights involving music or materials. This example is not a good example, though. 
  • Church planters sometimes are often guilty of reacting to existing trends or conversely, copying existing trends. There are three other factors that can motivate planters, and certain risks and dangers in all five types.
  • When you release a dove ceremonially, it’s not supposed to be attacked by seagulls.
  • Should communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Supper) be done with a common cup or several cups? Actually, that’s not the issue; the real reason I posted this is because it’s a great example of taking Bible study notes.
  • Or this question: Should Churches shift weekend service times to accommodate the Super Bowl game? Perry Noble’s church did.
  • Last week Rachel Held Evans linked to a trio of articles with the common theme, Do Christians idolize virginity? One of the recommended articles is being recommended here as well; the story of a girl who believed that, in her words, I am Damaged Goods.
  • For my local readers who enjoy Robin Mark’s annual visits here each summer, here’s the best version of the John Wesley song I can find. (YouTube audio.) Watched it three times on Saturday.
  • Michael Belote has a very lengthy, heartfelt article on dieting that he then uses as springboard for looking at our spiritual diet. There are some great principles here including this question: Am I using the right fuel in the right amounts? This is a five-star blog post!
  • We’re a bit late arriving at this one, but this February list transcends time. Here are 28 ways to show gratitude that are good anytime. 
  • Wanna start a church in Orange County, California? You’d be in good company, and there are currently 17 churches for sale.
  • A New Jersey pilot credits her faith in God for her and her passenger surviving a crash in the Hudson River.
  • When Michael Hyatt spoke to real estate professionals about social media, he discovered they didn’t know what to post to Twitter or Facebook. Here are his ten suggestions
  • Canadian hockey player Mike Fisher, now with the Nashville Predators, made Brad Lomenick‘s young influencers list for January. Here’s his testimony and a link to his Zondervan-published biography.
  • The Calvinists gotta hate this song; but probably the Arminians are glad they have enough free will to turn off bad church music. Click for The Free Will Song.
  • For something more contemporary… I’ve never been to the blimeycow YouTube channel before, but this take on five-minute instant worship songs, is far too cynical.
  • …Click the images for sourcing from Clark Bunch’s blog (top) and Close to Home (below)…Feel free to add your favorite recent Christian blog links this week in the comments…

Close to Home  02 05 13

May 22, 2012

Discipleship Is Not Mentoring

In a world with a glut of business and leadership books available, we hear a lot about mentoring. And in a spiritual environment where some fear the pejoration of the term “Christian,” at the same as others are uncomfortable with the proponents of “spiritual formation,” we hear a lot about discipleship. And if you’re involved in men’s ministry, you hear a whole lot about both, actually.

England’s Andrew Dowsett says the two terms are not coterminous. I had to look it up, too. But the rest of this is really clear, and it’s a clarification that’s badly needed if we are to understand our role in discipling others.  If you prefer, here is the direct link to his blog, for the legion of non-clickers among you, it’s also reprinted below.

At the end is a link to a post where he continues to develop discipleship, but since this would involve “borrowing” both text and several graphics, you’ll have to click through for that one, and click through to the full blog in order to locate a second part to that one.  (Andrew has done a fair bit of thinking on this, so if discipleship is something you feel especially called to, read all three parts.)

The other day a younger friend asked me a really good question: what is the difference between discipleship and mentoring?  In fact, this is a great question, and one that arises from my insistence that discipleship is not primarily about the Christian’s personal and largely unmediated relationship with Jesus but about interpersonal human relationships, the participation in the missio dei (God’s mission) Jesus has delegated to us.  If my understanding of discipleship is that it is relational and directive and handed on, is what I mean by ‘discipleship’ mentoring?  An older acquaintance who asked me my views on discipleship recently thought so.

There is certainly a degree of overlap, but in my view discipleship and mentoring are not coterminous.  While I am aware that there is a (growing) range of nuance to how the term ‘mentoring’ is applied, my understanding of mentoring is that it is vocational and that, while the mentor may certainly address character issues and facilitate networking, the relationship is primarily concerned with passing on specific skills to their protégée.

Another related-but-different field is that of life-coaching, which, unlike mentoring, is not vocational.  The aim of the life-coach is to help someone identify changes they want to see in their life and to put in place changes towards that life.  They are more concerned with values than particular skills: with helping their client to align their actions more closely to their ‘ideal world’ lifestyle.  Life-coaches tend not to be directive: the impetus for change comes from the person who has engaged them; they act as a sounding-board to help that person articulate what they seek.  As such, life-coaches – in contrast to mentors – do not necessarily model something they have learnt and are now handing on.

Discipleship is concerned with becoming Christ-like (“imitate me as I imitate Christ”) in every part of life.  It is concerned with vocation – that is, our kingdom roles – as inextricably linked to personhood – that is, our covenant relationships.  Therefore, discipleship involves a distinctively Jesus-centred form of life-coaching and mentoring, while adapting and exceeding both.

Discipleship as mentoring (as when a Christian businessperson mentors younger businesspeople in engaging in business according to kingdom values) puts one person between me and the place I want to go to – a person who will help me take that step.  It may relate to a specific job or employment, or unfamiliar location; or more generally to the unchanging, developing vocation that is expressed through a series of jobs and in a series of locations.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like competence and Christ-like character, here competence takes the ‘leading beat.’

Discipleship as life-coaching puts one person between me and the person of Jesus – someone who will bring me to Jesus, just as I am called to bring others to Jesus.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like character and Christ-like competence, here character takes the ‘leading beat.’ It may be significantly removed from mentoring – a key observation for church leaders in inherited traditions: we are not primarily called to raise up the next generation of clergy or licensed lay ministers, but to create a culture of discipleship by making disciples – regardless of their vocation – who make disciples.

Both are counter-cultural to the extreme individualism of our age.  Both are necessary, as the life of discipleship is a shared life of being called to come to the person of Jesus and be sent ahead of him into every place.

I shall develop these ideas in my next post, The Field Of Discipleship

~Andrew Dowsett

Want more?  Another consideration of this is found at the blog of Dr. Alex Tang; clicking the image will take you to the article.

April 15, 2012

Brandon Cox: Five Cautions

Brandon Cox is a Pastor, planting Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas. He also manages Pastors.com and Rick Warren’s Pastor’s Toolbox newsletter. Grace Hills Church is only eleven weeks old but Brandon has some cautions he wants to share.

If you read what follows, you’re joining the article in the middle, so I suggest you read this at Brandon’s blog, where it appeared under the title, Why Grace Hills Church is in Jeopardy.

If we fail to intentionally be the church, we will unintentionally just do church. And that’s true, no matter how much we say we’re going to “be the church.” Doing the Sunday gathering thing is what we’re good at, and even though we spend a lot of time and money on it, it’s still easier than scattering to be the church in our community.

If we fail to intentionally make disciples, we will unintentionally just make fans. I believe in making Jesus famous and bringing people into the enjoyment of His glory, but our mission is more than increasing the popularity of the church. The mission is to help people become reproducing, sold out Jesus-followers.

If we fail to intentionally be authentic, we will unintentionally just perform. I’ve performed before. In fact, I’m a recovering performer and have struggled with an addiction to the approval of others, so admitting my weaknesses is tough, but essential. I no longer trust my autopilot to lead me into genuine authenticity. Being real takes effort, and if we aren’t real, nobody heals.

If we fail to intentionally embrace all people, we will unintentionally play favorites. And the apostle James warned us about the danger of insulting the cross by picking and choosing those with whom we want to do ministry. Rather than hanging out with only the “churchy” people, of our color, of our political persuasion, of our cultural background etc., the gospel itself demands that we purposely break free and seek out new friendships for the gospel’s sake.

If we fail to intentionally be generous, we will unintentionally consume everything. By default, we spend it all, and we tend to spend pretty much all of our resources on ourselves. Churches tend to fall into the trap of sustaining their institutional machinery, maintaining their buildings and budgets, and begging for more volunteers and bigger offerings to keep the snowball rolling. Generosity requires purposeful sacrifice (if we can even use that word in light of the cross).

~Brandon Cox

December 16, 2011

Overheard Conversation

A conversation between two people in a retirement home:

Person One: I pray to Jesus all day long.

Person Two: Pray to him? I don’t even think about him.

The reason for quoting this is that Person Two is an elder in a local church. A rather strange thing for a person to admit who has been given a leadership position in a Christian organization, right?

Or is it more common than we think?  I know I don’t always make right choices in the course of a day, and I also know there are times I am just rushed off my feet. But there is a constant awareness that Jesus is always nearby; that the Holy Spirit is present even if I am not consciously aware of it, or even if I am screaming inside for guidance and direction; that God is watching, and not, as the song says, “from a distance.”

Person Two’s statement is also a very candid admission that their faith is not an active reality or active force in their life. It’s somewhat dismissive and perhaps even defiant (“Jesus who? I don’t give him a thought…”). It means the faith system that forms the central core of their church’s beliefs, and the Person who both embodies and teaches those beliefs just doesn’t impact their thoughts at all during an average day. Rather shameful for a ‘spiritual’ person identified as a leader in a ‘spiritual’ institution or ‘religious’ organization.

I might as well go to work and forget that I’m married from the minute I close the front door. (“My wife? I don’t even think about her.”) I might come home at the end of the day because there is a meal waiting and a bed to sleep in, but otherwise I’m not giving her a single thought in the intervening hours. That’s just nuts.

Scripture tells us to “be in conversation with God without ceasing.” That’s my paraphrase. It means the lines are open. The link has been clicked from my waking moments and the page is open. The call is on speaker-phone. The intercom has been pressed. The instant-messaging has been activated.

And Person One, by the way, is very concerned that Person Two could spend a whole life “in church” and miss out on the central reality of a living relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of the world; missing out on the central reality that eternal life can begin right here, right now, today.

So, how often do you think about Jesus?

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?

August 28, 2011

Seeing and Hearing Grace for the First Time

You could call it “elder brother syndrome.”  It doesn’t matter what you call it; I just keep thinking that those of us who’ve been around church for a longer period of time are sometimes working from a distinct disadvantage. I don’t mean to minimize the years of things God saved us from, but I’ve had two experiences within about two hours of each other:

  • The first one was sitting in the morning service behind a couple who are new to our church having started coming about a year ago. The worship leader chose some pieces which we haven’t sung in awhile, and the thought struck me, they’re hearing some of these choruses for the first time. I imagined the freshness of the music and lyrics to their ears and compared it to when I heard some of them initially.
  • The second impression was just an hour ago. I’m reading a manuscript for a counselor who is writing to other counselors on dealing with issues like forgiveness and healing, and twice in four pages he noted that people who have amassed a head knowledge of God over the years will find it will actually prevent them from hearing directly from God; hearing a message that reaches into their hearts.

This is why I believe it’s so important to invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to weekend services; so we can see what we do through fresh eyes.  It’s also good to get connected with people who are new to faith, so we can rejoice with them at the discovery of the different aspects of God’s grace as He reveals it. Finally, we need to constantly “come as a child,” with the sense of awe and wonder that happens when people “taste and see that the Lord is good” for the first time.

March 15, 2011

What Are Your Spiritual “Numbers?”

We don’t have a high “comments-to-readers” ratio here, and it would probably easier just to give up, but I want to take a run at this anyway, and if we only get a small handful of replies, that’s fine.

Since this is about numbers let’s number the question(s):

  1. C. S. Lewis, among others, advanced the idea of salvation more as a “process” experience more than a “crisis” experience, but for most Christians — especially Evangelicals — emphasis is placed on remembering specific cathartic moments when we “crossed the line of faith.”  So as you think to that time, what age were you when you, depending on the type of language used, “accepted” Christ or acknowledged him for the first time??
  2. Churches impose other spiritual “rites of passage.”  While we don’t have confirmation in the tradition that I grew up in, believers baptism by immersion was the norm.   What age were you when you really (a) went public with your faith, or (b) affirmed or confirmed a commitment you may have made at a younger age??
  3. Spiritual formation doesn’t always follow a straight graph line, and doesn’t always conform to the age at which we participated in certain church experiences.  Was there a later time where through circumstances or some other “ah ha!” moment things crystallized for you spiritually??  A time that Jesus went from being ‘savior’ to being ‘Lord’??
  4. It’s not about numbers.   What do you make of the numbers you responded with?? Perhaps your spiritual walk is more characterized by a “new every morning” kind of journey.  Are there things we can learn by looking back to see how far we’ve come, or by sharing our story with others??
  5. Are you moving closer to the cross??  Do you see yourself maturing spiritually, or do you long for the experiences or zeal or joy you had as you reflect on previous days?

Comment moderation Tuesday will be mostly after 6:00 PM EDT

April 18, 2010

Seeds, Roots, Branches, Fruit

Today’s post is a simulpost with the blog,  Christianity 201.

A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, is now pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada. I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I hoped for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church. The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events.  Here’s what it says:

“Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

“Many people are at different places on their spiritual journey and the design of our ministry is to meet your spiritual needs where you are and help you along on your Christian path. We believe God wants us to be consistent in our growth and maturity as Christians.

“Our plan is similar to many good churches, and is taken directly from the journey Jesus invites us to in the Bible. These are the milestones of our Christian Journey that Highland Park endeavors to help us through as we hear Christ inviting us to:

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