Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2021

The Church: Before and After

by Ruth Wilkinson

This is something I’ve been thinking about. See what you think…

There’s been a lot of discussion about what ‘church’ will look like after Covid-19, having experienced so much time away from in-person weekly gatherings. Previously, Sunday morning services were the hook on which many other programs and activities hung. It was where we started getting to know new people, and finding our place in the faith community. It was the forum in which we crystalized our shared identity.

Right now (with a very few exceptions) local congregations are operating without that centerpiece. We’re doing everything we did before, but in new ways. We’re building new relationships without necessarily making in-person contact. Some ministries are doing quite well online or in lawn chairs (weather permitting) which is an indicator, I think, that many churches are more healthy and organic than we might have given them credit for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Will our music and other creative arts continue to grow into the rest of the week, and online? Will we have board members and elders who seldom if ever sit in a pew? Will programs and ministries continue to be financially supported by people who never meet a Sunday School teacher, but who pitch in at the soup kitchen? Will we need to adapt our policies and practices to allow for this evolution?
I guess we’ll see

April 30, 2021

Change: Resisting vs. Embracing

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:25 am

A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend…

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 – The Voice Bible (selected)

A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
A time to tear apart, a time to bind together

Ecclesiastes 3:2-9 – The Message (selected)

I am creating something new.
There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts,
streams in thirsty lands.

Isaiah 43:19 – CEV

I think it was Skye Jethani who I first heard use the phrase, “The Myth of Continuity.” The meanings I just looked up are above my pay grade, but I believe he was referring to the more common state of believing that things will always continue just as they are. This can be true in both a micro and macro sense.

In my lifetime, I’ve known people who seem to thrive on change. Perhaps you know them also. People who have had several quite different careers. People who have lived in very distant cities. People who can re-invent themselves at the drop of a hat to adapt to new challenges and new situations.

Then there are those who are happy for each day to be somewhat the same; somewhat predictable. They take the line in the poem attributed to James Francis Allen, “One Solitary Life” which says that Jesus “never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born” as prescriptive, as a model for life.

In Greek culture there were four different concepts of love. Growing up in the church I heard many sermons that helped me remember philia (the love we have for a brother and maybe the hobby or activity about which we are most passionate); eros (the sexual love that the kids in the youth group were told to save for marriage); and agape (the unselfish love which when lived out places others above ourselves.) But I heard rather varied definitions of storge.

Storge (stor•gee) is described in the things I’m reading as I type this as a love between parents and children, but although the usage isn’t common, I was taught it can also mean the love of things familiar. And we all see that. The familiar, the routines, the rituals, the personal traditions. It’s that feeling you get when you attend the family reunion each year, or that particular sequence of events on Christmas Eve that start with the eggnog — that’s strange, I seem to have set my glass down somewhere and now I can’t remember where — to the reading of Christ’s birth narrative and the opening of gifts.

The enemy of storge when used in that sense would seem to be change and disruption. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory takes the events one might encounter in a lifetime and gives them a stress rating from 11 (receiving a minor traffic ticket) to 100 (the death of one’s spouse.) Even seemingly positive events like an outstanding personal achievement (25 points) or taking out a loan to purchase a new car (17 points) or the birth or adoption of a new family member (39 points); each of these can be stressful in their own way.

Personally, while (for example) I love to travel, I don’t think that overall I relate to change well. Especially the unexpected kind. Or the changes that bring with it an entry into the unknown. I want to be in control.

My first roller coaster ride in my life was Space Mountain at Disney on a day that they were doing a fuller “lights out” ride through the darkness than what they provide today. (I should also add that nobody told me ahead that it was a roller coaster.) I don’t care if the coaster jerks or drops but I want to be sitting so I can see the track or see the car ahead. I want a road map. I want a copy of the program for the play.

Changes are inevitable, however. Heraclitus (you remember him, right?) said that “The only constant in life is change;” and commenting on this Plato added, “Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”

On our trips to Cuba, the tour guides will often remind the Canadians and the Europeans that Cuba doesn’t have the seasons we know: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rather they have the “regular” season interrupted by the “rainy” season and “hurricane” season. When I was in California the first time, it was strange to see the Christmas decorations being placed without the atmospheric and meteorological markers I associated with them.

But at least Cuba has some variance. I do suspect there are parts of equatorial Africa where every day is truly the same. Still, people who have moved to these type of climates will tell you that after a certain number of years, they began to miss winter; they began to yearn for some snow, not in the storge sense, but in terms of needing the escape from the sameness; from the too easily predictable.

Sometimes we need things that get our adrenaline going, and while the stimulus may not be positive at the outset, much depends how we challenge that energy; how we choose to dissipate the stress.

Which brings us back to the concept of seasons. In the Evangelical milieu in which I find myself, seasons of life is a phrase often repeated. Something ends, and the conclusion is that “it was for a season.”

The question is, do we embrace such changes of season or do we resist? I think our personality types (God-given personality types, I should add) determine that outcome. 

From Christianity 201:

If God uses seasons to prepare us, then I believe that you can be fruitful no matter what the season is in your life. You can glean from each season of your life things that will grow you and produce fruit for the future. You may be looking at your life right now and see a desert wasteland, but Isaiah 43:19 says that God is about to do something new. He’ll make rivers in the desert so that you can produce fruit and grow. No matter how dark life gets or how abundant your blessings are, God has a design and a purpose to grow you through this season.
– Chris Hendrix

From an older article here:

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!
– Andy Elmes

If we really believe that God is moving us on to the next stage of life, we’ll thrive on the challenge, even with its short-term pain. If we’re really trusting Him, we’ll see where the next chapter takes us.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to … well, you know who you are.

April 21, 2021

Wednesday Connect

Christianity and Culture

Some insider humor.

Welcome to #95! We’ll get there eventually.

  • Ole Anthony has died. The head of the Trinity Foundation single-handedly exposed televangelist Robert Tilton and is beloved by many for purchasing The Wittenberg Door, a Christian satire magazine. (Yes, well he always thought your first name was strange also.)
  • The UK’s popular Spring Harvest music and teaching festival is launching EC-GO, a Christian streaming service. It goes live May 3rd. I don’t have a final price, but for £77 you can have unlimited access to all the sessions from this year’s festival, and get the first year free.
  • Hendrickson Publishing of greater Boston, which four years ago purchased Rose Publishing of southern California (someone earned a lot of frequent flyer miles negotiating that one) has now itself been purchased by Tyndale House Publishing. Each company will maintain its own location and autonomy. Hendrickson was owned by members of the same family that owns ChristianBook.com.
  • The funeral for Prince Phillip, at his request contained, “no homily, no sermon, no preaching.” Yet there was a strong spiritual tone through the music and the readings which the Prince chose himself.  It was midnight in Melbourne Australia when this writer observed, “The television presenters spoke of Prince Philip’s ‘faith’. For a moment, one commemorator referred to Duke of Edinburgh’s ‘Christian faith’, but quickly corrected his social faux pas by returning to the vague universal category of ‘faith’.”
  • With artists like Carrie Underwood and Harry Connick, Jr releasing faith-focused albums, it’s easy to ask if it’s real or if it’s a marketing stunt. And then there was Justin Bieber‘s surprise EP that dropped on Easter. And what if the message is solid but the language is a little too crude? …
  • …And the writer of the GQ cover story on Justin Bieber says sitting down to interview him was more like being in a confessional booth with him. Key quote, “Being famous breaks something in your brain.
  • No surprise: That jailed pastor in Alberta, Canada who refused to shut down his church services, got a letter of commendation from John MacArthur. But then, he’s a graduate of MacArthur’s seminary. (Plus, I don’t think this qualifies as what the Bible calls persecution “for the sake of the gospel.”)
  • The debate on homosexuality continues in the Catholic Church, with some voices saying it’s time to change the catechism.
  • From last week, ICYMI, Hillsong has shut down its Dallas campus. And as Julie Roys reports, there are stories implicating founders Brian Houston and wife Bobbi have misused funds and were involved in a $1.4M real estate deal.
  • Which is it? “Liberal Christian?” Or “Progressive Christian?” Roger Olsen wants to write a book about the former, but his publisher wants to call it the latter. He thinks the latter just means pro-LGBTQ and pro-egalitarian.
  • Having emancipated herself from LifeWay, author and speaker Beth Moore‘s first curriculum project is Now That Faith Has Come, a study of the book of Galatians.
  • Is this statement a tautology? “Joe Carter of [The Gospel Coalition] and Johnathan Leeman of 9Marks appear to have the cure for this decline in church membershipformal church membership!
  • …However, that story might be related to this story: One popular Reformed pastor believes churches should delay immersion baptism to age 18.
  • Newsworthy: “After nearly four decades of work led by Deaf Missions and collaborations between American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Deaf Harbor, DOOR International, Seed Company, Pioneer Bible Translators and the Deaf Bible Society, the Bible was completely translated from original sources into American Sign Language last September.
  • Remember that story from April 7th where a man and his wife and two of their grandchildren were shot and killed? The man was Dr. Robert Lesslie, a doctor and Christian author who wrote medical-themed collections of real life miracles such as Angels in the ER.
  • Admittedly I don’t do these roundups very often anymore, but you can always check out my Twitter which is updated a few times a day.

April 19, 2021

Some Social Media Tension Could Be Lessened

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:06 pm

During the last few months I’ve watched two very longtime relationships erode; people with whom we’ve enjoyed close fellowship since we moved to our small town over 30 years ago.

Not everyone sees everything the same way. I get that. And I enjoy good and healthy debate, provided the basic premises of debate are followed, one of which is logical argument. If the reasons given for a particular position are worthy of consideration — even if I disagree — I’m willing to entertain the conversation.

I’m also willing to listen to someone if they have a portfolio of concerns, but often someone is like a one-issue candidate; the guy running for mayor but really only cares about expanding the baseball diamond in the park, and when asked about road construction or taxes is simply unable to articulate the issues.

But sometimes that’s more subtle. The issues seem varied, but the common theme is preaching to their social media audience. I suppose there is the unlikely chance they might convert someone to their positions, but it’s rarely seen. Often they think the strength of their viewpoint is going to be measured by the volume of their online posts.

I really want to send this to my friend. But I still value the friendship more than anything. However, if I did, it would look like…

Dear ________;

I see you’re once again posting about the _____________ issue. I see it differently, but I also see the frequency of these posts to be concerning.

Your friends and relatives know where you stand. And you know they don’t necessarily agree with you on this subject. Personally, I would think a reminder maybe once every 2-3 months would be sufficient. Not every other day. Especially when a few of them are stretching to make a point.

On a personal level, I do wonder how many people or organizations you are subscribed to that provides you with the vast number of sources from which you gather the various content items. I think about the time this must involve, time that could be spend taking a walk in the fresh air, or doing something different. Your best friend on social media is the button that says, “Log Out,” and you might want to consider using it more often.

I also worry because this rather huge number of social media sources you follow is creating a giant echo chamber which prevents you from hearing from the other side. If we surround ourselves with people who agree with us on everything, we never experience growth.

Last week I had an insight that helped me to see this differently. I’m wondering how much of this is just done for the (predictable) reactions you get. Being deliberately provocative. Poking the bear. Raising peoples’ blood pressure. Being a troublemaker.

I’m reminded of the boy sitting at the back of the middle school classroom making fart noises because it makes the boys laugh and it makes the girls yell at him to knock it off. Either way he gets a reaction. He gets attention.

I am convinced you’re on the wrong side of history on this subject, but neither of us will be around to see the outcome. We can only estimate based on current trends and statistics. But I wouldn’t want to be known as the _____________ guy. Especially if my position could be construed as simply based on my personal preferences.

I’m not going to block you. Not yet. I still consider you a friend. It is amazing though how out of what I always thoughts were common roots we shared we have diverged along very different paths. We need to strengthen the things that remain instead of working toward division.

Your friend,

Paul.

 

April 17, 2021

Vincent S Artale Jr. Reblogged Your Post

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:46 am

A picture of the man of the hour, no doubt taken in a rare moment he didn’t have his finger on the “re-blog” button.

The title of today’s article is also the subject header for an email I receive frequently from WordPress, this blog’s host. While it’s usually an honor to have another blog want to share our material, Vincent is relentless.

To date — starting mid-August 2014 — he has re-posted the work of others on over 116,000 blog posts. To be fair, these are usually first paragraphs followed by a link, but since my Christianity 201 blog highlights the work of other writers, it creates a situation where normally a blogger would themselves, having appreciated the content, gone direct to the original source of the material.

Furthermore, some of the re-blogs make no sense, as they are more information items intended to reach regular readers. This makes me wonder if the blog is simply programmed to follow certain content creators and post their material automatically, without any editing, and never with any introduction.

I just don’t get the point.

If I’m supposed to be honored, I’m actually more baffled.

So today’s post here is a grand experiment; an attempt to see if Talmidimblogging has enough filtering to realize that they are the object of today’s writing. To see what happens when you hold up a mirror, so to speak.

I’m not going to tell him to stop. I tried that. “Be selective;” I advised “and don’t use material that I myself have obtained from other writers.”

This isn’t about traffic and statistics, though it most certainly does weaken search results. It’s the reason why, in 4,000 posts, two writers (but only two) asked me to remove their material from C201. One of these is now a recognized jerk by the online community. The other one I still follow on Twitter because I do respect her work, though she is a one-issue writer who loses credibility by never speaking up on any issue not related to her mandate of promoting women in ministry.

Of course, this may be all about traffic and statistics; mainly Vincent’s attempt to drive traffic to his site which he sees as a hub or a portal to other content.

Except that it doesn’t work. The material isn’t vetted at all. I’m not even sure he reads the posts.

Which of course, we’re about to find out.

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

There are many day to day issues and decisions that we face that are not directly prescribed or proscribed in Scripture. Situations in which we need to ask ourselves WWJD and do our best.

Ministry during this season of pandemic guidelines has presented us with a need to be flexible, and to understand and perhaps rediscover our priorities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people quote to me Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Do not stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do…” as a push back against government mandated or requested suspensions of Sunday gatherings. “See?” goes the argument, “we are commanded to gather! We aren’t going to disobey God just because the government tells us to.”

On one hand, I agree. If the government were commanding us to disobey God, I hope we would stand up against that. Christ has had His enemies throughout history and will continue to do so until the end, and the Church must declare her allegiance.

Except that’s not what the government is asking us to do today. In the Hebrews passage, the word variously translated “neglect” or “forsake” (enkataleipō) in the original language has a context of permanence. It speaks of abandoning or leaving behind. Not of temporarily finding other ways to connect with each other. Not of telling the worship team to stand down for a while. Not of expecting the preacher to do without an audience for a time. But (and this is a ‘worship leader’ speaking) Sunday mornings are not the Church. Those gatherings are good, healthy and powerful. I would argue that they aren’t who we are. They are not Christ’s kingdom.

I choose instead to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

The believers to whom these words were written were having to make difficult decisions around personal freedom, and relational influence. The idols in question for them were enculturated false gods. For us, liberty itself can be a false god. We insist on indulging in the pleasures it provides, while demanding that everyone recognize our right to do so, regardless of the effect it has on the people around us and their perception of the Body of Christ.

Even more strongly worded are passages in Amos 5. God expresses His distaste toward the gathered worship of Israel, ostensibly an act of obedience and honor. True, God has Himself instituted these “festivals” and inspired the writing of these “songs,” but when practiced without humility and in the face of a callous disregard to the vulnerable in their society, God refuses to receive that honor. And of course, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Given the principles at work in these scriptures, my choice is clear. To suspend my rights in solidarity with those around me, to do the hard work of finding other ways to connect with people in need, to “stay home.”

True, the government has, in this most recent lockdown, given houses of worship an almost exclusive exception. But just because I am offered privilege does not mean I have to accept it. I am a member of my community. I will live as such.

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

March 27, 2021

Outgunned by Talent and Tech

I was walking through the room we used for coffee and fellowship when I heard it. Lee (or perhaps Leigh) who was a 15-16 year old member of the youth group was sitting at the piano playing the theme song from The Simpsons.

I was the music director. Actually, that’s not true, I was the entire music department. No worship band. No vocal team. Just me. And if you came back the next week, it was me.

The Simpsons theme has an interesting melody and there are some adornments to it which go beyond basic chording. It requires a bit of keyboard competence, whereas my goal with the worship at the church was to keep it singable and engaging, and to use simple chords.

I realized that if this was a sample of his playing, Lee (or perhaps Leigh) was a better pianist than I. But the likelihood of getting him to do something on a Sunday morning was small, and the one time I did get him to do a postlude once. The congregation, instead of heading for the exit in spirited conversation, as they normally did, sat in absolute silence staring, while he turned a shade of red I didn’t know was humanly possible. I think he was traumatized, and he never did do anything else at that church.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing the same thing in another church. Very little talent to draw on, except for Martin, an oboe player. Looking back now, if I had not been juggling so many activities, it would have been nice to write him some actual ‘parts’ for some of the songs, but I was too rushed to consider that.

Again it was me. If you came back the next week it was me. For two-and-a-half years. A recipe for burnout if ever there was one.

Then I found about Dave. He was a classical guitarist. The music he was able to make on his guitar — any guitar really, including a cheap beat-up one that might be laying around — was incredible. It would have added so much to a Sunday morning. But he wasn’t interested in doing anything that would be considered “church music.” Sigh!

There were people with so much talent, so why was I up there, week after week?

These days, I have decided not to try. I’m not so much intimidated by the Lees and the Daves as I am by the technology. Not the simple microphone and mixer stuff, I was after all, the audio technician for a national Christian television show once.

No, I mean the more recent access people have to studio software that allows you to sit in your basement and create multi-layered tracks, add special effects, get friends to do a solo on the bridge and send it to you in an email, and sync the whole thing to a video presentation.

We could only dream of things like that, or pay someone $80 an hour for studio time.

Talk about blogging in your underwear, people can make amazing things under similar conditions. (For the record however, I am wearing shorts and a pullover as I type this.)

Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the tech. A year of virtual choirs has only shown me how much I don’t know, and trying to read tenor and baritone vocal parts (in bass clef) have demonstrated the degree to which my sight reading has atrophied and my vocal range has diminished with respect to high notes or holding notes for a long 12-beat ending.

I tweeted a few days ago something to the effect that today, ‘he who controls the tech controls everything.’ Or she. I no longer feel that I can contribute anything meaningful with respect to instrumentation or vocal harmonies or song selection because I’m a hands-on person who likes to be part of the entire process, and these days, I have to take a back seat to those who are technically more proficient.

And of course, we’re living at a time where all the worship music anyone wants to sing is coming from either Hillsong or Bethel Worship (even the Elevation songs’ publishing is Bethel) and nobody is interested when I talk about a classic hymn, or a metrical Psalm or even a song I heard on YouTube by City Alight. I just don’t have the same passion for what’s being created currently.

If I were parenting a young child, or advising anyone with kids, I would encourage them to get the kid to obtain proficiency on one instrument, but also be spending 25% of their music education time learning all they can about the emerging technology, and how they can take the sounds they produce and build upon them to create things which have heretofore not existed, and get them online to reach people around the world they will never meet in person.

I do sincerely envy those who have mastered the tech. Covid-19 has created a tremendous learning opportunity for those in music ministry, and those skills will still apply long after the masks have been folded and placed in a drawer.

 

 

March 24, 2021

The Value Added to Your Life in Reading About Others’ Lives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

You’ve already met Jeff Snow several times on this blog. He wrote about being a campus minister, did a book review for us, and twice we ran his 3-part series on the impact of divorce. Jeff is a voracious consumer of books in general, but especially biographies, the ones which focus on sports history, Canadian history, and key people in Christian history. What’s the attraction to biography? I asked him if he would share that with us.

guest post by Jeff Snow

I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Most fiction I’ve read are books I was made to read in high school. I wasn’t actually much of a reader when I was young, but the genre I did gravitate to then, and even more now as I’ve become more of a reader, is the genre of biography.

A well-written biography can be a number of things. It can be interesting. A well-written biography about fascinating person can be as riveting as any fictional book.

A biography can be inspirational. As you read about a person’s character, their story can serve as inspiration for our own lives. One of my professors in seminary made us read biographies of a number of people from church history. His goal, he said, was to help us find “dead mentors”. Biographies can introduce us to people who can inspire us in our Christian walk and in other areas of our lives.

A well-written biography can teach about history. A good biography sets the main character in the context of their times, teaching us not only about the person but also about the historical era he or she lived in.

A biography of someone from the past can educate us about our decisions in the present. Reading about both the triumphs and the mistakes of great people in the past informs us as we make decisions and draw conclusions about our present day lives. As revisionist history and “cancel culture” take root in our society more and more, it is important to sink our teeth into reputable biographies from the past so that we can make sound judgments in the present.

My tastes in biographies tend to be a bit narrow, but allow me still to share five fascinating and interesting people that I think you would benefit from knowing through biographies.

1) Billy Graham. Those of us who are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not realize that there is quickly coming a generation who may never have heard of Billy Graham or understood his impact on evangelism, the worldwide church, and even on American politics. An important “dead mentor” for all pastors and evangelists, and for all Christians.

2) Jackie Robinson. Here I betray one of my narrow interests – baseball. But the story of Jackie Robinson transcends sports. In 1947, Robinson broke the “colour barrier” that existed in baseball and became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. A man of Christian faith, Robinson’s battle against prejudice and racism went beyond the baseball diamond and into business, politics, and activism. An important civil rights pioneer whose philosophy is summed up in the quote on his tombstone: “A life is not important except in the impact if has on other lives.”

3) Abraham Lincoln. You will not have a hard time finding biographies of Lincoln. He is probably the most written about person from the 19th century. His is a story of how great leadership evolves. He went from a young lawyer who refused to take out membership in a church to a president whose 2nd inaugural address reads like a sermon. From having a grade 2 education to being the most powerful man in the USA. Even his attitudes toward slaves and African-Americans evolved. As a self-assured president, he gathered together most of the men he ran against and put them in his cabinet. His was a life we can learn from in many ways.

4) Sir John A. MacDonald. MacDonald more than anyone else had a vision of what Canada could become as an independent country that stretched from sea to sea to sea. He was a complex man. He had his faults, as the subjects of all important biographies do. They should not be glossed over, nor should they serve to overshadow one’s positive contributions. His treatment of natives was in some ways deplorable, yet in other ways he was far ahead of his time, as in his desire to give them the vote. As MacDonald increasingly becomes a victim of today’s cancel culture, it is even more essential for us to understand the full extent of his unparalleled contribution to the Canada we know today.

5) Alexandra Deford. You probably never head of Alex, but you need to get to know her. Her father, Frank Deford, was one of the top sports writers in America in the late 20th century. Alex was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and her father chronicled her life in a book called “Alex, Life of a Child.” It’s the only book written about her life, and it may be hard to find, but if I had to choose only one biography for you to read, this is the one. A heartbreaking story, yet one of incredible courage and grace. Have tissues handy.

There are dozens of others I could recommend, but part of the fun is the discovery. So consider your interests, find a person that connects with them and start reading about their life. Between the covers you will find interesting stories, inspirational mentors, historical guides, and people who will impact the way you look at the world today.

March 15, 2021

Our Sister Blog Celebrates 4,000 Consecutive Posts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 pm

On April 1st, 2010, I had seven blogs. Yes, seven. The one that eventually overtook my interests was a devotional project I developed to keep my mind focused on things of greater eternal value. If Thinking Out Loud was the parent blog, then Christianity 201 was the daughter blog, since these things are never masculine. (When a church splits off to form a new plant, it’s always a daughter church which must really grate on those who want churches to use more masculine language.)

Anyway, today marked post #4000. There were a few music videos at the end, so feel free to click the title which follows for a direct visit.

Christianity 201 Devotional #4000

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
– I Cor. 4:2 NIV

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
– I Sam. 7:12 NASB

Celebrating 4,000 consecutive days of devotional readings at Christianity 201.

A year ago at this time I was publishing a countdown to the end of publishing 7 days per week. I figured I’d settle into a routine of Sunday thru Thursday or Tuesday thru Saturday.

Then Covid-19 hit and (a) I found myself with more time on my hands, and (b) I figured people were stuck at home and more likely to be seeking more online content. (I was right, starting in March each month’s stats are higher than the previous year.)

I also found myself writing more of the pieces myself, while continuing to return to past contributors, highlight the work of newer authors for the first time here, include the occasional quotations feature, and format the submissions from regular Thursday writer Clarke Dixon, and my wife, Ruth Wilkinson.

I do this with a great sense of personal responsibility, always mindful of:

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
– James 3:1 NLT

I’ve also had to fight the severe pandemic depression that set in, particularly in the first 2-3 months. I know that I speak for many of us.

At the same time, Ruth has been working on a graduate degree in theology, which has raised the bar on mealtime discussion subjects. I recently find myself deferring to her on hermeneutical questions which arise…

…It is interesting how few pastors and Christian writers I encounter who are interested in writing devotional literature. Fortunately, this is more than made up for by the number of bloggers. If I only ran posts which began, “Today we’re featuring a new writer;” I could easily find 4-6 high quality devotions per day based on the hunting-and-gathering process I use to find the ones which do appear.

Devotions should be read — and written — out of devotion to God. Unlike writing a book, this particular genre comes with a daily deadline. In the spirit of Psalm 100, where the Psalmist says, “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!” it should be done joyfully, not out of a sense of an onerous duty or obligation. I am fortunate to be able to say that when an idea or concept presents itself, I do get lost in the pleasure of crafting 800 – 1300 words on that particular subject. The pre-pandemic feeling I had of wanting to cut back the frequency of C201 has disappeared.

This verse,

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
– 1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT

was one that a ministry mentor often shared as part of the signature line on his correspondence. Another word which comes to mind is fervent which the Oxford Dictionary defines as, “having or displaying a passionate intensity.” It’s found in the KJV of a verse in Romans that this mentor used in his “tentmaking” business signature line.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
– Romans 12:11 – NIV

Obviously, God presented me with an opportunity to do something unique and I have tried, as our opening verse at the top of the page instructs, to do this faithfully.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
– Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV

In that light, what do you think is the best original devotional I’ve posted here, or the best themed topical devotional I’ve assembled?

The answer is, the one I’ve posted that day. I really do try to make each one better than the last.

You could expand that principle. If I was still leading worship in a local church, and someone asked me, ‘What’s the best worship set you’ve put together?’ I would like to be able to say, ‘The worship set we did this past week.’ Each one should represent a greater striving for excellence.

So yes, I do enjoy this.

But also, I need this.

I need the discipline that the daily deadline presents or I would get lost in the many distractions that modern life has to offer. (See yesterday’s post for more on this.)

And so we celebrate 4,000 days of writing, including the times we were away in Europe for up to two weeks and devotionals had to be written ahead and schedule. Again, I just wanted to be faithful to something, and on April 1st — with much less fanfare — we’ll mark eleven years of so doing.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval, O Eternal, my Rock, O Eternal, my Redeemer.
– Psalm 19:14 (The Voice)

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.