Thinking Out Loud

December 9, 2016

When the Lord’s Work is on the Back Burner: Clergy Edition

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

Because of the nature of the work that occupies more than half of my week, I am acutely aware of the tendency of the laity to neglect their volunteer responsibilities at the church until the very last possible minute. Thus, this topic is one of my frequent go-to rants.

Examples include:

  • The Sunday School teacher who needs some gifts for her twelve students but this only dawns on her very late in the evening on Saturday when the shopping options in her town basically consist of the little store located at the gas station.
  • The soloist who is scheduled to sing on Sunday morning, and arrives at the Christian bookstore at 4:45 — they close at 5:00 — to see what music soundtracks are in stock; then needing to go home and actually learn the song by morning.

We wrote about that sort of thing once this year already.

The thing is, I very much believe in empowerment of the laity. While I believe paid church staff should be in charge of purchasing, I don’t think the staff should be doing everything or controlling everything.

But this year, I was caught off guard when it was clergy not laity who I felt had neglected their responsibilities. Because I don’t know the people in question, I feel I can tell their stories.

  • The pastor who, with just days left to December 25th, feels he needs to do a church mailing and is desperately seeking Christmas letterhead, matching mailing envelopes and matching offering envelopes.
  • The pastor who, the next day, decides that the Christmas Eve service should include a candlelight ceremony.
  • The pastor who, the day after that, is also looking for candles.

img 021316See…here’s the thing. Although you might not know this unless you read every day, I write from Canada and we only have so many domestic sources for church supplies; they tend to sell out; and importing things at this late stage isn’t always an option. Unlike the USA where the distributors of such things are also the originators or the manufacturers, here in The North purchasing — which means importing — covers reasonably estimated needs and not much more. Retailers adopt the same mentality. (Granted, Christmas occurring on a Sunday does shake things up a bit.)  Meanwhile:

  • I told Letterhead Guy about a Christian bookstore on his route that tends to hoard things like church bulletins in the hope the store might have something unclaimed. (Most stores don’t like to keep seasonal stuff lying around for ten months until the next Christmas rush occurs.)
  • I told the first Candlelight Guy about someone who had purchased a very large surplus of candles, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. Oddly enough, I realized later that in the little village where he’s holding the service, the largest industry is a candle company. Surely he knew that, right?
  • With the second Candle Guy, I had a better offer. He needed 125 candles. I found a supplier who would have an extra two boxes of 250 arriving in a day or two. He simply needed to buy next year’s supply this year, and if he would commit, I could even arrange free shipping. It was a good price, too. Mysteriously, he called back to pass on the offer. He wanted 125, not 250.

So here’s the thing. As much as I try to be polite and cordial and offer suggestions, I find it worse when it’s a member of the clergy who is trying to organize Christmas services with just two weeks to go. I might find it in my heart to forgive someone who has a 8:30 to 5:00 job the rest of the week, or is struggling to raise a houseful of children.

The clergy, on the other hand are professionals. They need to have a big-picture view of the church calendar and what is coming up more than just a fortnight ahead.

So to all, I wish to reveal this vital, breaking news: In 2017 the date for Christmas is December 25th. That’s right. It’s already been announced. That information is actually published ahead of time for the convenience of people who need to know.

It’s been a pleasure being snarky with you.

December 8, 2016

Worldwide Shortage of Christian Book Titles Continues

Other customers also got confused:

Lynette Eason’s Without Warning is the second book in a series and released a few weeks ago. Joel Roseberg’s Without Warning is coming in March, 2017.

without-warning-books

This sort of thing happens a lot.  In 2013 it was two music releases:

But 2016 has been a particularly rough year, especially this fall:

unashamed2

However, it’s clear that some Christian musicians didn’t quite grasp how to play the game:

where-the-light-gets-in-and-shines-through

Personally, I’m guessing the light gets in through the same hole it gets out (or shines through.)

So why or how did I discover the forthcoming Joel Rosenberg release? Because they were using the same hashtag on Twitter at the same time this week. Does nobody check these things? Where are the social media savvy types who are supposed to know what they’re doing? 

Let us know if you spot any Christian publishing or music sources of confusion.

December 7, 2016

Wednesday Link List

In response to J.D. Hall’s book for children called, “Help!! Arminians are Giving Me Nightmares Again!”, blog readers at Spiritual Sounding Board gave alternate titles...

In response to J.D. Hall’s book for children titled, Help!! Arminians are Giving Me Nightmares Again!, blog readers at Spiritual Sounding Board gave alternate titles

Sidebar from Christianity Today. See first item in today's link list.

Sidebar from Christianity Today. See first item in today’s link list.

Some extended quotes from this week’s linked articles because even if you don’t click, I didn’t want you to miss the substance; each one of which could have been a single blog focus here.

  • Jen Wilkin, speaking to Christianity Today notes that “while most evangelical women know their Tim Kellers from their Rick Warrens, male pastors aren’t expected to parse female teachers. The bookshelves in their offices contain no books by contemporary female authors, and their sermons typically do not reference female voices, other than the usual suspects of Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie ten Boom—both dead, for the record.” The article concerns the popularity of Jen Hatmaker and other women speakers, see CT sidebar at right for her social media popularity.
  • ♫ It was only later I noticed this was a 2014 article, but the songs were so interesting I have to share it. 20 alternative Christmas songs, many of which are covers of more familiar carols. Warning: Don’t try to copy/paste the titles into YouTube, this site has the most annoying pop-ups I’ve ever encountered.
  • Playing Second Fiddle: “In nearly every great church, nonprofit, ministry, or business, there’s a vital #2 person working, and without them, those organizations would struggle.” What it takes to be #2.
  • Now it’s no longer just gay wedding cakes, it’s wedding invitations. Two young Christian women in Pheonix face the prospect of prison.
  • Quotation of the Week: Paige Patterson ends a chapel service at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, of which he is the President. “I know there are a fair number of you who think you are a Calvinist, but understand there is a denomination which represents that view, It’s called Presbyterian.  …I honor their position, but if I held that position I would become a Presbyterian. I would not remain a Baptist, because the Baptist position from the time of the Anabaptists, really from the time of the New Testament, is very different… If we are not careful a myriad of related beliefs and practices will enter our camp, hidden within the Trojan Horse of Calvinism.”
  • Planning Christmas Eve Statistic: “25% of all your visitors for the entire year will come (or not come) on Christmas Eve.” 3 things to consider when planning that service.
  • Bye, Bye Bibles: “…While Marriott International supplies a Bible and Book of Mormon in every other hotel in their franchise, their millennial-geared Moxy and Edition hotels will be free of religious literature. ‘It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands.'” 
  • Is God sovereign, even in the midst of the recent US elections? People looked to the Bible to find out. So this link is complicated. First, click on this one to get accustomed to how to read the 3-year comparison of searches at BibleGateway.com. (Give yourself a minute to figure out how the graphs work.) Second, click on this one and check out the first image to see the searches for sovereign skyrocket in November. (Yeah, they might have formatted that graph better, but who are we to say?) Scroll further down to see the top words searched in English and Spanish, and let your mouse hover over a word to compare the two languages’ rankings.
  • ‘And then, when He had given thanks, He took the lamb and killed it.’ That verse isn’t in your Bible. He took bread, “because he wanted it to be clear to us that there was no more shedding of blood required… For all the symbolism of the lamb already established, there was a greater, more significant over-riding factor. And that had to be made clear: No more sacrifice, no more death for sins.”
  • The “Cultural Commute” or “what it means to be an iPhone pastor in a typewriter church.”
  • This article on reading older books begins with a quote from C.S. Lewis; “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
  • Although it takes a restorative therapeutic approach that some may bristle at, it’s still relatively rare to see articles on ministering to transgenderism.
  • Window into Another World: I felt like I was coming in on the middle of a movie reading this short article about ministering to the children of hillbilly families.
  • Is Kellogg’s the target of the next major conservative Evangelical boycott? (What? No more Eggo? No more Pop Tarts?)
  • We are not the enemy. Such is the spirit of this article aiming to show that Calvinists and Classical Arminians are more related than you think. “I like to say that they are theological first cousins, both residing under the ‘Reformed’ umbrella.”
  • There’s a difference between giving your testimony and sharing your faith. The latter must begin with the resurrection.
  • Preaching Place:
  • It’s deja vu all over again: With the release of the movie in March, 2017, all the venom that was poured out over The Shack book is now being recycled as condemnation for the movie. This link is but one of many.
  • Announcer: “And now, we bring you the first episode of Perry Noble, Church Growth Consultant.”
  • He writes what many of us are feeling: The Christian liturgical calendar is growing on us.
  • Christian giftware supplier Abbey Press is closing.
  • ♫ The Voice is the name of a Bible version as well as a TV show. Relating to the latter, after Monday night I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from Christian Cuevas.
  • Women in the Church: “I didn’t really believe I could exercise any other gift in my local church beyond nursery duty and craft projects. Teach? Lead? Those things weren’t on my radar screen at the time, and they certainly weren’t on the radar screen of my own church leaders. When I did find my way into a seminary classroom more than a decade later, this Methodist minister was one of the first people I contacted to thank…”
  • ♫ Popular Christian songwriter Darlene Zschech (Shout to the Lord) has re-signed with Integrity Music.
  • Phil Vischer and Christian Taylor talk to Josh Lindsay about movies which have redemptive themes or spiritual analogies
  • Your Word of the Week — Just in time for the holidays — Orthorexia
  • …Also, with December 25th close at hand: “Back in the days when I was a fire-breathing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, I encouraged church members to use the Christmas holiday as an opportunity to witness to their unsaved relatives. Hell is hot and death is certain, I told congregants. Dare we ignore their plight?  Remember, the Bible says that if we fail to warn our wicked relatives of their wicked ways and they die and go to hell, their blood will be on our hands. Despite my attempts to guilt church members into evangelizing their relatives, not one member reported successfully doing so.” From there, the language gets stronger.
  • Bee of the Week: A mandatory heresy warning before each TBN broadcast
  • Finally, Matthew Pierce on being a Church kid in 1997
  • …or better yet, Michael’s investigation of bizarre Christian websites including — no really, we have to give this one its own link…
  • …including Rebecca St. James Transvestigation, which is actually just a YouTube link. Michael describes it: “The intersection of trans issues and theology is a fascinating, fertile ground that is ripe for discussion. A topic that begs further scholarly debate. This is not that. This is an 8-minute rant that questions whether Christian singer Rebecca St. James is a man in disguise, sent from the Illuminati…The woman behind this video is the Apostle Laura Lee, AKA Laura Lee Dykstra…Exploring her channel is exhausting. I did, and I will summarize it for you: She claims that Kenneth Copeland might be Tom Hanks, and that Obama is both Stephen Colbert and also a woman.” (Underlining added. Just in case you doubted what you were reading.)

Canada Corner and Catholic Corner along with Leadership Lessons and Essay of the Week return next week. Maybe. There were several articles that crossed all these categories for your consideration. Have your suggestions to me by 9:00 PM Monday if at all possible.

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

December 5, 2016

Living in a Post-Truth Era

Filed under: apologetics, bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:04 am

This started out as word study on “truth” from the website TopVerses.com I was writing for C201 but ended up going in an entirely different direction.

post-truth-banner

If you follow media of any type, you’ve probably bumped up against the phrase “post-truth” in the last few weeks. Wikipedia defines it as, “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” The Oxford dictionary online is much the same denoting “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  

The same dictionary publisher group named it the “word of the year.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the first time the term post-truth was used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in the Nation magazine. Tesich, writing about the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf war, said that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world”.

“There is evidence of the phrase post-truth being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant,” said Oxford Dictionaries. [italics added] [source]

Of course you see where we’re heading today. As Christians, we believe in objective truth, not subjective post-truth. We appeal to the scripture as our rock, our anchor, our source for knowledge. But it’s easy to fall into subjectivism.  We go back to Wikipedia for a definition of that term; “the philosophical tenet that ‘our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience’. In other words, subjectivism is the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.” [italics in last clause added]

How do we become subjective? Perhaps it’s:

  • When we say the situation ethics of a given set of circumstances means violating a scriptural moral principle (see note below)
  • When we try to accommodate evolution into the first few chapters of Genesis (see note below)
  • When we make allowances for homosexuality which contradict what the church has historically taught on the subject (see note below)
  • When we ignore teaching on the judgement of God and say that a loving God would never send anyone to hell. (see note below)

Okay…I guess I need to stop typing “see note below” and just say it: While the statements above would seem to imply that I am coming from a very conservative, dogmatic perspective I am no longer entirely settled on some of these issues. What I would want to say here very clearly is that I hope that whatever Biblical worldview I have is formed from debates, forums and careful study of what the Bible actually does or does not say, and not from my subjective view, or personal perspective on how I wish things were.

Basically, I can’t allow my own feelings — the way I wish things were — on an issue to override God’s objective truth on any given matter the same way the Roman Catholic church allows The Catechism of the Catholic Church to override scripture.

God does have an opinion on these matters and though “we see in part” and “we see through a glass darkly” it’s our job to try to discern what it is; especially in the cases where it impacts our personal code of behavior or a factor in our current circumstances.

It’s complicated, yes?

December 4, 2016

For the Honor of God’s Name

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:14 pm

sheep in green pasturePsalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:

  • He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
  • He leads me beside calm waters
  • He restores my soul
  • He leads me along the paths of righteousness

At this point the form address changes from He to You:

  • You are with me
  • Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
  • You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
  • You anoint my head with oil

The results of all this are:

  • I have everything I need (lack nothing)
  • My cup is full to overflowing
  • I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
  • I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)

(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)

That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (v. 3b, NIV)

Other translations have:

  • You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
  • for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
  • for the sake of his reputation (NET)
  • bringing honor to his name (NLT)
  • truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)

Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).

The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.” Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”

Barnes Notes extend this thought:

For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:

(a) in their being saved at all;

(b) in the manner in which it is done;

(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.

Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,

Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.

So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
Col. 3:17a NASB


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:


For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.

December 3, 2016

The Season of Anticipation

nativity-calendar-enhanced-2

 

I’ll swear I never heard the word Advent until I was in my 40s. Growing up Evangelical, that just wasn’t our thing.

Let me qualify that slightly. I visited a wide variety of churches. I’m sure the word was used, but I had selective hearing.

That same hearing challenge would come into play when I worked in a Christian supply store. It took the first dozen occurrences to differentiate between whether the customer wanted an Advent calendar or Advent candles. In the first few years, either way, the answer was no. We didn’t have them.

I learned later the nuances of this particular season. Some would argue the season is best expressed in the carol/hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel…

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny…

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here…

I think you could make an equal case the ideology of this season is expressed by the old Heinz Ketchup commercial that was based on Carly Simon’s song Anticipation.  Or better yet, this later one from 1973.

The context (of Advent, not the commercials) is Israel awaiting for a coming Messiah. Perhaps for those with young children, it’s more of a Will Christmas ever get here? vibe.

advent-candlesA few years in we did Advent calendars with our own children. Not the ones where you open a window and there’s a chocolate inside. Give me a break! There was a verse for each day and a definite focus on the true Christmas story. The story of Simeon (Luke 2) also works well with children, as his life was only made complete by seeing the child, the Salvation of the Lord.

A few years after that I started noticing Advent candles in churches that were Christian & Missionary Alliance, Pentecostal and event Baptist. The word had spread, literally.

…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Another “anticipation” hymn always comes to mind here. I prefer it to the Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” which is also used for other lyrics, and one I consider among the finest musical settings Christianity has produced.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

And that’s where we leave it today. If you’re Evangelical like me, and Advent is a foreign word that “those Anglicans and Catholics use,” I hope you’ll pursue a discovery this season of something that can only enrich your understanding of what you currently call Christmas.


Related Resources:

December 2, 2016

Objections to the Christian Faith

I spent most of the morning working on this afternoon’s article for the other blog and the rest of the day is committed. So instead I bring you this article from 2012 which looks at ten common objections raised in opposition to embracing Christianity. 

Bob Ayton is a teacher and Science Department Chairman in Marion County, Florida who has been named as one of the top three science teachers in the state of Florida for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching – one of the most prestigious awards a science teacher can receive.  Before teaching, he had over 7 years of experience as both an Analytical Chemist and Laboratory Manager in the Pharmaceutical Industry for an industry leading pharmaceutical contract company.

You are encouraged to click the link in the title below to read this at source and then look around his blog, Engage.
 

The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity

1) The Bible has mistakes

The Bible is in fact the most reliable and accurate book of antiquity.  It is textually accurate due to the number of manuscripts and the dating of those manuscripts.  There are over 5,000 complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, 10,000 Latin, and 9,300 other with some of the earliest copies dating to 120 AD.  Complete New Testaments could be compiled with even the direct quoting of early church fathers.  The archaeological evidence is simply overwhelming in that 29 ancient kings from the Old Testament have been found in chronological order with the exact same depiction of names on monuments excavated and written in their own time.  The internal evidence of consistency of 66 books from 40 authors written in 3 different languages in different genres over a span of 1500 years and there is one consistent message throughout the entire book.  Lastly, the prophetic evidence is profound in that the Messianic prophecies alone that came true in Jesus were about 300 in number.  To just fulfill 8 of these would be along the order of 1 in 10 to the 17th power or equal to filling the state of Texas 2 feet deep in coins, marking one black, stirring it up, and letting one blindfolded guy pick out the exact one.  Objection over-ruled.

2) What about all those different translations

Translations do not in fact make the Bible or Christianity inaccurate.  We have some of the most literal translations of the Bible in the English language that are consistent and accurate with regard to the original language through the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).  You would be correct in saying paraphrases like the Message and other liberal translations have swayed drastically from the original words of God, but literal translations are different ways to say the exact same thing.  Objection over-ruled.

3) Hell is just not reasonable

This objection has its roots in the over-estimation of man and the under-estimation of God.  It takes a philosophical worldview starting point that man is essentially good and God forgives everyone in not really upholding any justice at all.  The Bible states that man is not good, that man can do no good that would merit favor with God, and he is ultimately accountable for his thoughts, words, and deeds.  I am just about as excited about Hell and the next guy, but it is a reality according to the wretched sinner that I am.  It fits with justice that breaking the highest laws in the land deserves the highest judgement for which we are accountable.  The amazing thing is that God Himself, Jesus, lived a perfect life, took on God’s wrath for which we deserved, and offers us the free gift of salvation through repentance and faith in Him alone out of His mercy, love, and kindness.  Through faith in Him we get His life of righteousness and He takes on the payment for our sin so that grace is bestowed and justice is satisfied.  With the correct starting point and a proper view of man and God, Hell is definitely reasonable.  Objection over-ruled.

4) What about all those hypocrites in the church

This objection is actually true.  I totally agree with the unbeliever here that there are hypocrites in every church.  It is true that the church is full of hypocrites because we are sinners that are saved by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone for His glory alone.  We get no credit, we get no glory, we get no accolades.  Now there are true and false believers in every church and the true believer is growing in holiness and is a new creation with a new heart and new desires.  However, truth should never be ultimately determined by the actions of the presumed followers but the standard of truth itself – which is Jesus.  Jesus was the only non-hypocrite and He is the truth.  Therefore, test Him as the benchmark for sincerity.  Objection over-ruled.

5) Science and evolution has disproved God

I could go on forever on this one.  Evidential science proves there is a God.  It does not prove who God is but it does prove in the complexity and amazing nature of our Creator.  Macro-evolution is a falsehood which has not one shred of evidential scientific proof and is ultimately a religion in and of itself.  Just click on the categories of Evolution and Atheism and I make my case throughout this blog.  Objection emphatically over-ruled.

6) Only one way to God, what about all those other religions

The exclusivity of Christ is a tough thing to swallow for unbelievers in our “tolerance-driven” culture. That is, tolerate every view except the one view that says there is only One Way.  The logical conundrum that Biblical Christianity presents is that Jesus says, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  This is an exclusive statement that is either right or wrong.  However it cannot coexist with other religions.

If you really look at all the other religions in the world, they are man trying to work to become righteous enough to satisfy God.  Biblical Christianity is the only religion that says that you are not good and no good work can satisfy God.  All God should do is justly punish the sinner who is a lawbreaker.  But God, out of His loving-kindness and mercy, sacrificed His only Son to take the penalty that the sinner deserves.  He died in our place, He took on our iniquities, He bore our sin.  Buddha never died for anybody, Mohammed never died for anybody, only Christ died for us.

How then can we stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “God, You have not done enough.  One way of salvation is not enough.”  Objection over-ruled.

7) What about all those wars started by Christians

The key to this questions is again…do not base Christianity on the basis of the actions of some of the presumed followers of the faith that are acting contradictory to what the Bible states.  The Bible clearly states to love your enemy and this has been demonstrated in countless examples of martyrs through the ages.  I urge the person that promotes this complaint to buy and read Foxes Book of Martyrs.

The unbeliever has to look to causes of extreme horrors perpetrated by atheism that is completely justified and aligned with the worldview that there is no God that we are accountable to.  Stalin was responsible for 40-100 million people slaughtered, Hitler killed 20 million people for his evolutionary genocide, Mao Tse-Tung murdered between 40 and 80 million people, and Pol Pot killed 2 million of his own people.  Objection over-ruled.

8) Christianity was spread by the power-hungry people

Yes, the apostles who were all poor, made no money, had absolutely no power, were oppressed by Rome in the world and the religious elite in Israel, and all died martyrs deaths were all power-hungry people who spread Christianity throughout the known land.  Do you see the illogical nature of this objection?

Christianity was spread by God’s ordaining power throughout history by those who were weak, unpopular, uneducated, unimpressive people (see 1 Corinthians 1).  Christianity, time and time again, has been attempted to be eradicated by those in power, only to be unsuccessful.  Objection over-ruled.

9)  If God was really all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why is there pain and sickness and death?

This again shows a misunderstanding of God and an over-estimation of man.  It is our fault that there is pain and sickness and death.  It is our sin that has brought about these consequences, not God.  The consequence of our sin is death and God should justly bring about that death the instant we first sin.  He is right and just to do this in the same way we want a murderer or rapist to be guilty and have a consequence for their despicable crime.  Our sin are crimes against the highest law, which is God Himself.

However God is patient and merciful and kind and offers forgiveness through His Son.  Therefore, objection over-ruled and that leads us to the final objection.

10)  All objections in every form and facet

All objections are rooted in a person wanting to divert the issue away from the true source, which is themselves.  They are all smoke to cover up the sin and pride that the sinner loves.  The Bible says that a person must repent and put their trust in Jesus to be saved.  If you are that person who has brought about these objections before, focus on your own sin and understand that God offers to pay for that sin through His Son.  He offers to pay the price for your crimes and dismiss your case on the basis of all of the evidence being placed on His Son.  Then and only then can all objections to your condemnation be emphatically over-ruled.

December 1, 2016

Devotional Details and The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Christianity 201 - newAt least once a month, I try to let readers here know what’s going on at this blog’s sister site, Christianity 201. This time around I thought I’d get into more details.

C201’s tag line is “Digging a Little Deeper.” What I mean by this is something deeper than those little devotional booklets that offer a key verse, a paragraph with a cute story, three more paragraphs, a poem and a prayer. I know many people who use these, and I support the ministries which print them, but often they’re over and done with in 60 seconds. Even with the devotional website I read each morning, it’s easy to be in a hurry and read the key verse, skim the rest, and then move on to other computer activity.

I started C201 at a time when Thinking Out Loud was mired deep in some investigative stuff about the latest Evangelical scandals. I needed balance personally. I started with some short quotations and brief Bible expositions that had a huge faith-focus and then C201 found its identity with pieces which went a bit longer. There are no points for length, but I felt there was too much online that was just too short. Eventually I got into the rhythm of scanning the internet for people who were writing deeper devotional and Bible study content. Some days go deeper than others.

Presently we have two regular writers; Clarke Dixon is midweek (usually Thursdays) and Russell Young is Sundays. I try to do one a week. Most of our writers are people who have appeared previously on the blog. There is a very broad range of doctrinal perspectives. We’ve only had two take-down orders in 2,435 posts and both of them were Calvinists. Just sayin’. (I am looking for one more writer if you are familiar with C201 and feel qualified to contribute.)

On a personal level, I need this. I need the personal discipline that comes from coordinating this project. I need the input of the material that is used. Because Thinking Out Loud posts in the mornings (usually) Christianity 201 posts between 5:31 and 5:34 PM EST. Again, it’s a personal discipline, and with great humility I say, even on my worst days spiritually, I am always in awe of how the daily devotional Bible studies come together.

…So a longer set-up this time around. Here’s what we’ve been up to lately, and as we say regularly at C201, click the title below to read this at source.


The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Last Sunday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father, did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

November 30, 2016

Wednesday Link List

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We’re not part of the online echo chamber. You’ll find links here you won’t find elsewhere, plus a few we stole outright. The piece of wall decor above is from P. Graham Dunn; you can order it by clicking the image.

 

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