Thinking Out Loud

March 19, 2019

Two Entirely Different Sets of Values and Virtues

Filed under: books, character, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck. Released just a few weeks ago, it’s already into its second printing and I had hoped to review it pre-publication, but it only showed up in the mail last week. Considering one of the things the book deals with is procrastination, I do promise a full review; but I’m only about 65% through the book at this stage so this isn’t it.

The book deals with self control. The subtitle is, Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science, but there’s also a tag line across the top of the cover that at least one vendor is using as the subtitle, A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators. Either way, you get the idea.

But I want to look at something Drew noted early on, on paged 65-66. He references a 2015 work by journalist David Brooks titled The Road to Character which has been described as a book about humility, morality and ethics. Here’s Drew’s synopsis:

In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks argues that we live in a post-character culture. We care more about success and achievements (what Brooks calls “resumé virtues”) than we do about cultivating traits like honesty or faithfulness (what Brooks calls “eulogy virtues,” the kind of qualities that get mentioned at your funeral).

Part of the reason for this shift, Brooks writes, is that we have strayed from a school of thought that saw people, not as inherently good, but as fundamentally flawed. Brooks dubs this the “crooked timber” tradition, a phrase he borrowed from the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” According to this older view of human nature, we are not inherently good creatures who simply need more freedom and affirmation. Rather, we are splendid but damaged. Like crooked timbers, we need to be straightened.

Brooks writes that the crooked timber tradition was “based on the awareness of sin and the confrontation with sin.” And here’s the surprising part. According to Brooks, it was this consciousness of sin that allowed people to cultivate virtue. That might seem like a strange argument. How could having a dim view of human nature enable people to become more virtuous? Because once they were conscious of their sinful nature, they could take steps to fight against it. “People in this ‘crooked timber’ school of humanity have an acute awareness of their own flaws and believe that character is built in the struggle against their own weaknesses,” Brooks writes. “Character is built in the course of your inner confrontation.” This inner confrontation is anything but easy, but the struggle is worth it.

I included a little extra in this excerpt, but it’s the contrast between resumé virtues and eulogy virtues which really got me thinking; in a way that it really was front of mind during much of the weekend. 

It’s so easy to get caught in the now and forget the eternal.

 

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March 18, 2019

One Part of the Mind Had Failed; Another Part Was Very Aware

Guest post by JD Van Allen

Last week I went into nearly every business downtown to put posters up for the fundraising campaign my business is doing. I had finished the south side of the main street and had crossed up to the north side. I stopped in a few shops and was approaching the drug store when I approached a man from behind who was standing still with a cane in one hand, a walking cast on the opposite leg, and a definite look of discomfort on his face.

We spoke for about five minutes, well he spoke mostly, I prayed for him in my head and wondered if my whole day would be spent standing on that sidewalk with him. He paused mid sentence — the pause wasn’t the strange part, he struggled to get every word out — the strange part was the change of expression on his face. He wasn’t fighting to find a word, this was from a different battle. He looked at me a while longer, I was about to speak when he said “I’m sorry” then paused again, this time looking for the words that used to come to his mind so freely. “No, I’m not sorry” he continued, with something almost like a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. “You have talked to me for a long time, no one has done that” he was fighting through this sentence, it took nearly a minute.

He went on to express that no one had talked to him for his long since his mind started to go. but it was only five minutes, maybe less. Had no one actually listened to him for such a small amount of time?

I was shocked, my heart ached for this man. He finished by expressing his gratitude for letting him vent. He wasn’t someone who just complained all the time, he is someone who had a lot on his shoulders and who felt free for once.

He thanked me for listening and for helping him to feel free from that burden. We walked into the shop together and he was excited to tell the employees that I listened to him but of course they were not interested in waiting for him to share his story. I engaged in conversation with him before he really had a chance to notice. I didn’t want his lonely reality to sink in quite so quickly.

I had prayed for peace for him the moment we started talking on that sidewalk, he found peace, even if only for a little while…

…Please don’t ignore people like him. He was hurting physically and he was aware of his failing mind; something I can only imagine as terrifying. He doesn’t need the extra burden of feeling alone and rejected. Listen to the people who are hard to listen to because no one else will.

That was about 20 minutes of my day that were well spent; better than any other part of my day. Thank you for reading this, I hope that it helps challenge your perspective.

Spread love


Still in his early 20s, JD Van Allen is an adventurer whose travels have included a summer in Africa and a full year backpacking and working in Australia. He composes songs and plays guitar, piano and mandolin. He currently lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada, where he is rebuilding a house from the inside out.

March 17, 2019

Thoughts on the Aftermath: “This Is Not Who We Are”

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:40 am

Jacinda Ardern

re-blogged from Random Thoughts from Lorne

Thoughts on the Aftermath

by Lorne Anderson

This is not who we are,” she said. “This act was not a reflection of who we are as a nation.”

How many times have you heard that? The speaker changes, the message is the same. This time it was New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

“They (the victims) are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence, which it is clear this act was.”

Friday it was killings of worshippers at mosques in New Zealand. There was shock, outrage and horror. (Considerably more than for attacks on churches in the Middle East, but I guess no-one gets excited about violence in the Middle East any more.) There was that phrase about how this is not a reflection of who we are.

I’ve heard those words used so many times before. They come after mass shootings of school children in the US, by politicians who can’t see the cracks in the American psyche. The words are spoken by Muslims, insisting Islam is a religion of peace as ISIS uses the Koran to justify beheading those of different faiths. The fanatics of ISIS are not Islam, they say. That Mohammed liked to behead others is something they prefer not to talk about. They don’t want to believe that, like it or not, such violence against “infidels” is very much a part of who they are.

We all have constructed a mental image of what we look like. We don’t check that image in the mirror. We are kind, we are caring, we help others, we are good people. When something bad happens, it shocks us. Even when the bad things happen time and time again. Each time there is shock. We don’t want to face the truth, which is that we are deluding ourselves as to who we are.

When unthinkable violence happens, we shouldn’t be surprised. We are rooted in violence and disobedience, though we may not want to admit it. They are in our spiritual DNA, going back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobeyed, Cain killed Abel. From the beginning of our race we have been less than perfect. All of us. What differentiates us from the killers is that we have not given in to those sin impulses.

It is who we are – we just don’t want to face that fact. We tell ourselves that terrorists and mass murderers are an aberration when the truth is, they are the norm.

If this is indeed who we are, do we have to stay that way? Can we learn from past mistakes? Can we turn things around? Or are we doomed to stay on the treadmill of violence?

When I was reading about Friday’s events in New Zealand, I had a portion of the New Testament book of James running through my mind, especially the fourth chapter with its words about both inner and outer conflict. I won’t quote it all, but I thought these verses were especially applicable, a guide for those who want the violence to stop.

 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

For most people, those words, and the rest of The Bible, are not taken seriously. Which is sad, because Jesus offers hope for this broken world. Admitting we are all fallen people changes the narrative. Authentic Christianity brings new life, and as individuals change, so too will nations.

Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand was very much a reflection of the nation. But it wasn’t a reflection on the nation. The attack could have taken place anywhere. I doubt there is more evil in New Zealand than any other place.

We don’t want to see ourselves that way. Terrorists and criminals try to justify their actions. Cain, the first murderer, asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

How can we stop the cycle of violence? Only through changes in the hearts of individuals. Is that really possible? The Bible says it is.

But are people willing to go that route that would bring about an end to terrorism and mass murder? Are you? Do we really want to change? If not, there will be more attacks like the ones in New Zealand Friday, because this really is who we are.

March 16, 2019

The Language of the Humble

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:48 am

Guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

Nelson Mandela is often quoted on the internet as having said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I don’t know if he actually said that but it’s a good quote. However, there may be exceptions.

At the beginning of the year I drafted a regimen by which I would read through the book of Psalms – 7 every week (one every day would inevitably fall apart and I’m a week behind as it is). But just reading through one translation is boring so I decided to make it more interesting. People often recommend reading two translations side by side to get the bigger picture of the translated text. If you can, you can expand on this by reading in two different languages. I got my hands on an Italian bible over Christmas, so off I went.

This exercise has lead to all sorts of fun discoveries, many of a sort that I anticipated, but others that were rather surprising.

When you hear the same words over and over again from birth, they can become stuck. You stop thinking about what they mean and they become just noise. In the best of cases, I find repeated texts always have something new to offer as I encounter them in different situations. Like a gem that rotates and refracts light in different ways, or a tree that always yields fruit. In the worst cases, the words get stuck and need a jump start.

When I read Psalm 10, I skimmed the words “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” without really paying attention. I think I see the words “O, Lord” and think, Okay, whatever follows is going to be abstract theology language that doesn’t reflect how real people talk or think or feel. Then I compared the Italian, which says ‘the desires of the humble (umili).’

I was comparing afflicted and humble and suddenly the words became faces. Whenever I go through the downtown there are people asking for change. I don’t carry cash and have nothing to offer, so I apologize and move on if I don’t cross to the other side of the street. I often ignore the humble and afflicted, and that’s just when they ask for spare change. Who knows what their desires are for their relationships, housing situations, etc. Apparently God does.

And heck, if he can hear their desires, surely he can hear mine!

I hear this kind of language every day and it doesn’t go to my heart. It gets stuck and it needs some percussive maintenance to get it moving again. I’m sure that God both hears us and speaks to us in our own language, but sometimes it’s worth switching that language up so that we know we’re paying attention.


Aaron Wilkinson blogs when inspiration strikes at Vox Surrantis: Voice of One Whispering

March 15, 2019

I Want to Fly the Plane

Filed under: Christianity, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:23 am

The plane which took us to Cuba last month. WestJest was one of the airlines affected by the Boeing Max 8 grounding this week.

Last night I received an email which had been flagged by Gmail (a division of Google) as being suspicious because the person who sent it to me appeared to be sending it from an email address which he had not used before. Actually, I know this guy, and he has about four different email addresses.

I carried my phone downstairs where my wife was working and I said that frankly, I thought this was none of their business. I am intelligent enough to look at the content and decide if there’s anything malicious in it.

Earlier in the day I had shared with her a discussion I heard on talk radio suggesting that the problem in the Ethiopian Air crash as well as the one in Indonesia might possibly have been caused by systems related to the autopilot function. Their pilots lack the training of their North American equivalents, probably due to the rise in affluence in countries allowing more people to fly, resulting in the need for many more skilled personnel. For such instances the autopilot is usually a blessing…

More and more it seems that the machines are taking over, not only in terms of function, but also in terms of doing our thinking for us. The on-air reporter was suggesting that the pilots and the countries concerned, simply need to get the plane up in the air and then let the computer take over. When something goes wrong, they lack the necessary skills to know how to fix the problem correctly and so they jerk the nose of the plane back up, resulting in a stall. As far as the investigation goes, these are early days, so it’s hard to know how the accuracy of that analysis.

Needless to say this causes me concern when it comes to self driving cars.

One thing that the airline story accomplishes is that it gives me the language necessary to say what irritates me most about my computer and my phone:

I want to fly the plane.

I want to be the one in charge. I want to decide for myself. I don’t want everything to do with my email and my social media and the business use of my computer to be run for me are to be on autopilot. Your paragraph

On Monday, I sent out a newsletter using the MailChimp program. I had to override the from address because the one it has stored as default is actually incorrect and the service won’t let me change it. Each time I type the address I got a large red warning sign telling me that my address lacks an at sign and that furthermore when I get to the point where I type it in it then gets upset but I am lacking the .com portion of the address.

There’s no way of telling the machine that I have a brain, but if it just gives me another two seconds I will type a completely usable address.

I want to fly the plane.

But more importantly I want to know why in a generation that is increasingly being taught computer coding we have to let these autopilot systems do everything for us. Eventually the machines will reach a complexity where are the humans will simply not be able to do the necessary overriding when necessary.

This is what many believe happened in the recent air crashes and it’s unfortunate if that is the case.

March 14, 2019

Zondervan’s Newest Study Bible in NIV Isn’t New

I hate to say, “I told you so.”

At the time of its original release, I said the name, “NIV Zondervan Study Bible” would be too easily confused with the flagship “NIV Study Bible.” Time and the marketplace proved this correct.

So when the time came to convert the Bible to the new Comfort Print font — a change still in progress involving every Bible product sold by both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan — they decided it was a good time to change the name to “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible.”

They also moved D. A. Carson’s name to the top which is both in keeping with what is seen on academic books in a series, and also creates resonance for the all important Reformed/Calvinist market, which Zondervan would love to lure from the ESV back to NIV.

The other bonus was that with comfort print, people who formerly needed large print can get away with the regular edition. The large print version of the older title was simply huge. So they’ve effective killed two birds with one stone.


The original advertising from a few years ago highlights many of the Reformed/Calvinist contributors. I’m sure they would argue this isn’t, strictly speaking, a Reformed product.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

And a comparison chart showed the main differences in chart form:

NIV Study Bibles compared


Appendix One: People who feel they are in the market for larger print in a Bible are actually looking at five factors:

Font Size – To meet expectations, “large” should be at least 10.0 point and “giant” should be at least 12.0 point; but the key phrase here is “at least.” Ideally, I’d like to see “large” at about 11.5 and “giant” at about 14.0.” Also, generally speaking large print books are much more generous in font size — as well as the other four factors listed below — than large print Bibles. Some readers who have purchased large print books before question the application of the term when it’s applied to Bibles with smaller fonts. If you’re in a store and they have a font size guide posted, that gives you the language to express what you’re looking for, but don’t go by online guides, as they are sized at the whim of your monitor settings.

Typeface – This consideration is the basis of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson’s move — started last year and continuing throughout 2018 — to “Comfort Print” on all their Bible editions. Some typefaces are simply fatter than others. Personally, I like the clean look of a sans serif font (think Arial/Helvetica) such as Zondervan was using on its Textbook Bibles. But others like the look of a serif font (think Times New Roman) instead. But Comfort Print is a great innovation and I find when it’s available that people who think they need large print don’t, and other who think they might need giant print (with other publishers) can work with Comfort Print’s large print. You can think of this in terms of the difference between regular and bold face.

Leading – This one is actually quite important, and we’ll leave the definition to Wikipedia: “In typography, leading (/ˈlɛdɪŋ/ LED-ing) refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. The term originated in the days of hand-typesetting, when thin strips of lead were inserted into the forms to increase the vertical distance between lines of type.” One Bible publisher which I won’t name is notorious for using a large font but then crowding their lines of type together. The issue here is white space. If you look at the Wisdom Books of the Bible (which are typeset as poetry with more white space and wider margins) and compare to the History Books or Gospels (which are typeset as prose, both right-justified and left-justified) you see the advantage created by white space.

Inking – Some Bibles are not generously inked. There are sometimes also inconsistencies between different printings of the same Bible edition, and even inconsistencies between page sections of a single Bible. Text should be dark enough to offer high contrast to the white paper. Furthermore, some older adults have eye problems which make reading red-letter editions difficult. If that’s the case — and you don’t always know ahead of time — use a page from the Gospels as a sample.

Bleed Through – On the other hand, you don’t want to see type from the previous or following page. Bible paper is usually thin paper, which means the potential for bleed-through is huge. On the other hand, holding Bibles up to the light isn’t a fair test. Rather, the place where you check out the Bible should be well-lit and then pages should be examined in the same context you would read them at home. It is possible that an individual simply needs a better quality reading lamp.


Appendix Two: An edited list of features from the publisher marketing includes:

• 28 theological articles by authors such as Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung; over 60 contributors.
• 20,000 verse-by-verse study notes
• 2,560 pages!
• Hundreds of full-color photos
• Over 90 Maps and over 60 Charts
• Book Introductions
• Cross-references and Concordance
• Single-column, Black Letter


Note: This is a news article. Zondervan didn’t supply a review copy — I already have the original which I traded for the large print I desired — and did not sponsor this blog article.

with files from Christian Book Shop Talk blog

 

March 13, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Michael Frost’s reading audience includes a wide demographic.

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #52. This is where all the cool get people get their Christian news and opinion pieces. You can also stay in touch during the week here at the blog and @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter. (Just remember the number one substitutes for the letter I.)

Starting on a more serious note, U.S. news media reported the eight Americans killed in the Ethiopian Air crash but not the 18 Canadians (the largest toll for any country other than Ethiopia itself.) I wanted to highlight just one, below. CNN reported on the larger number of people who were aboard the plane, “Gone is an entire corps of experts and workers focused on issues as diverse as championing the cause of Arctic marine life to maintaining security in Uganda to easing the suffering of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.”

■ So the past week brought us the image of Donald Trump autographing Bibles. What’s up with that? Michael Frost probed the subject and didn’t look to far to find those who said Trump was desecrating Christianity’s sacred textbook.

■ Canada Crisis: Or maybe it’s common to other countries in Western Europe and North America. “A national charity that works to save old buildings estimates that 9,000 religious spaces in Canada will be lost in the next decade, roughly a third of all faith-owned buildings in the country. National Trust for Canada regeneration project leader Robert Pajot says every community in the country is going to see old church buildings shuttered, sold off or demolished.”

Dave Stone (l), Kyle Idleman (r)

■ With a weekly attendance of over 21,000; Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky is definitely one of the largest megachurches in the country. After 30 years, this week it was announced that Dave Stone is handing the role of Senior Pastor over to former teaching pastor Kyle Idleman. “Stone himself is following the lead of Southeast’s former senior pastor, Bob Russell, who handed the reins to Stone in 2006. Russell was 62 at the time, and felt the church would benefit from a younger leader.”

■ Your new term for the week: Spiritually Vibrant, or if you prefer, Spiritual Vibrancy. Barna defined this and then surveyed what it calls Households of Faith on which practices bring a lively spiritual life to broader family routines and activities.

■ Ticking off the wrong people: Vimeo objected to promoting “sexual orientation change efforts.” (SOCE) So, “the church’s account – with all its SERMONS – was deleted.” In doing so they removed content which “had nothing to do with SOCE. They removed Christian testimonies from people who left LGBT lives. They removed other talks on Scripture.” Janet Mefford notes “You may not care about us, but this is an attack on Christianity. Period. There was no fair reason for Vimeo delete all the church’s sermons, with no warning or discussion.” (Be sure to click “show this thread” to see everything.)

■ Essay of the Week: With so many Christians so affluent, we tend to favor the idea of Jesus blessing the poor in spirit (Matthew), rather than having him simply say, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ (Luke). “Theologians Stassen and Gushee collected evidence from early church documents to show that for the first 300 years or so after Christ, the Beatitudes was the single most quoted piece of Scripture evoked for teaching, discipline or doctrine in the church.” Other scriptures support the idea that Jesus was indeed blessing the poor, and not just ‘in spirit.’

■ Hymns and Chorus explained. (And no it’s not the one about the cows in the cornfield.)

Many modern songs tell us what. They do this really well! We sing what God is, What He’s done, and what we do in response.
Hymns often tell us why. Why He is the way He is, why He’s done what He’s done, and why we should respond. If what brushes the skin, why penetrates the heart.

■ An element of the Passion Week story you might choose to leave out of your Good Friday sermon: The idea that, as one considers the dynamics of Roman crucifixion, Jesus endured what we would term sexual abuse today. (Graphic content.)

■ The response to James MacDonald’s justification of suing another believer (or several) which Christianity Today refused to print. (4½ .pdf pages plus footnotes.) (Admittedly the lawsuit was dropped, but by publishing only one side, doesn’t that leave CT complicit in the whole sordid affair?)  …

■ …and according to this report from Julie Roys, documents she’s seen show “numerous incidents where MacDonald spent the church’s money to support his lavish lifestyle.” Included in her report is the time when he “went on a worldwide missions trip that was so stressful, he needed a safari in South Africa to help him recover from it.” Or the time he “Demanded that the church pay to repair his truck after he scraped and dented it on one of the columns in the Elgin church parking garage, blaming security for ‘setting the cones up wrong.’

■ When it comes to certain issues, people will draw the line for one subject but not another. The article, at Internet Monk introduces links to a series of sermons and podcasts from one church which is on the frontlines of the issue of women in ministry.

■ If the formula ain’t (yet) broke… “After the success of 2018’s I Can Only Imagine, the Erwin Brothers and their producing partner Kevin Downes are tackling I Still Believe, the story of Jeremy Camp. Through Lionsgate and their Kingdom banner, the producing partners have targeted March 20, 2020, for wide release.”

■ Walking the Pavement: An organization which knows a thing or two about campus ministry notices that having some type of context changes how they pray for those college and university campuses. Instead of sitting in an empty classroom, there’s a value in prayer-walking, and it changes how a person prays.

■ Seeing the school adorned with flags supporting the LGBT community, an Ohio student responded by putting Bible verses on Post-It notes, which were taken down, and she received a suspension. She describes her conversation with the principal: “…I asked him why every time Jesus or God or anything like that gets brought up at school, it gets taken down right away. But we can put gay and pride stuff all over the school and not have to take it down and people can talk about it, but when you talk about God or Jesus you just get put down, you’re not allowed to talk about it.”

■ Believing the best or deceiving the donors? It’s amazing to read the spin John MacArthur’s Master’s University and Seminary puts on things despite being in default of academic institutional standards and also facing staff cutbacks.

■ Post-Hybels: Putting the situation at Willow Creek in perspective, a UK writer notes four things to remember about the Bill Hybels story, including that we should not be dismissive of all Bill believed and taught about evangelism and leadership… also this article:

■ Nancy Beach, a longtime Willow staff member from the earliest days, responds to the independent investigation.

■ This story is interesting and even includes a nun who was also Chemistry professor at a Michigan University. Yes, really! “While the discovery of DNA is usually credited to two physicists, James Watson and Francis Crick, there was a woman behind the scenes that paved the way for their breakthroughs by uncovering the complex structure of the molecule.” The story of Dominican Sister Miriam Michael Stimson.

■ NewSpring — the church founded by Perry Noble — isn’t taking responsibility. “A Southern Baptist megachurch in South Carolina says it is not responsible for actions of a former volunteer criminally accused of sexually assaulting preschool boys inside a church bathroom while security cameras rolled.”

■ Up to 100 former Jeopardy contestants who also happen to be clergy, including Orthodox Jews, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, will be participating an interfaith service via a Zoom conference on March 13 to offer prayers for program host Alex Trebek who was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer.

■ The top Latter-day Saint meets the top Roman Catholic. “A visit between a pope and the man considered a prophet by millions of Latter-day Saints would have been unimaginable to leaders and members in both churches 50 years ago. Clandestine olive branches and decades of détente were necessary, according to sources from both faiths…”

■ How To: In the United States, going to church seems as American as apple pie and baseball, but many are hesitant to invite their friends, neighbors, coworkers or extended family. An article from Life Church offers a template on how to begin the conversation.

■ The humility of affliction. A short devotional on Psalm 10 comparing the English of one verse to how it’s rendered in the Italian Bible.

■ New Author: Derek Vreeland is the author of By the Way: Getting Serious About Following Jesus. Here’s a sample of his writing dealing with four wrong assumptions about Christ’s death.

■ Then there’s the interesting case of the UK street preacher. Street evangelism is much more common in the UK than in North America, but this one had a rights-violating experience with police. “After marching out of the area, law enforcement transferred him by car to a remote location over five miles away from where he was. Lost and with no money, it was only through the kindness of strangers that Olu managed to find his way back to Southgate.”

■ A profile of  former Everyday Sunday member Trey Pearson, a “gay Christian rocker” who had to find new places to play after he was shut out of the Christian music circuit after coming out

♫ New Music: Lift Up Jesus by Passion featuring Brett Younker. ♫

■ Desiring God, a website once the domain of Reformed Pope John Piper, is now all about deciphering imagery in the Captain Marvel movie franchise. (With some predictable and justifiable outcry on their take.)

■ FREE Book Excerpt: Yesterday marked the latest release of a new fiction title by author Joel Rosenberg. You can read a 19-page .pdf sample of The Persian Gamble at this link.

■ Piano Lesson ♪ : Sound like you know what you’re doing as you reharmonize Amazing Grace. (12 minute video.)

■ Question of the Week: Could the Catholic Church in New York file for bankruptcy?

■ Lastly, did you give something up for Lent? Decision Data reports “this year social media overtook alcohol for the top spot. For years, booze had been at the top of the list, but not in 2019. Other big movers include television, which fell off the top chart and into the “other” category.” Check out the survey results.


Click the image to see this t-shirt at Zazzle.com

Or click the image on this one to see it in black. We should get a commission for this!


Apparently Michael W. Smith’s infatuation with this diamond pattern is a long-running thing. The current album (r) and his second album (l) are separated by 35 years.

March 12, 2019

What it Means to Give Something “In Jesus’ Name”

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:39 am

A few days too late in our trip I learned the Spanish phrase for “God Bless You.”

I mentioned that in Cuba, we discovered our reason for being there might be a “ministry of tipping;” given the economic realities affecting those on the support staff of the resorts and tours.

Once I had it, I was able to incorporate it in leaving anyone a tip (or with the housekeeping staff, gifts.) It occurred to me that in a small way, this could be considered to constitute doing something ‘in Jesus’ name.’

Dios te bendiga.

On our last day at the pool, I didn’t have money to give the guy who was cleaning some equipment. He walked with an obvious deficiency, something I had not seen before among any other staff members.

“Dios te bendiga;” I said, and his eyes lit up and he said “Thank you” in English.

I had no money with me, and I wished I could have said, “Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus rise up and walk.”

Hindsight is always 20/20. I’ve never claimed the gift of healing. Even now, as I pray for him (feel free to join me) I don’t know his name. But I pray for whatever challenges he faces that he would sense your presence and even go so far to ask that you would bring healing to whatever has crippled him.

The word bendiga is close to our word benediction which also means blessing. If you find yourself in a Spanish-speaking country, it’s something you can say that is infused with more meaning than a simple Hola. I suspect that in some tourist destinations, people are not God-minded enough to consider this form of greeting.

When we say “God bless you,” we are indeed asking for the guiding and nurturing hand of God to be present in a person’s life to bring help, and hope and healing. That they would know they are walking along the avenue of God’s blessing.

Amen.

March 11, 2019

The Sermon He Did Not Want to Preach

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

The hints to Pastor Mitchell Norris started out subtly enough.

“Why don’t we do a series on “The Seven Deadly Sins,” pastor?”

He looked at the list: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. After the last almost-complete shutout of volunteers for the last church work day, he felt that starting at the end of the list with sloth would be a good series opener.

But then, the requests got more specific.

“We should have a sermon on gluttony.”

Maybe they weren’t quite that bold. They’d begin with a reference to the latest health reports on how we’re not eating as healthy as we could; or how American life expectancy is dropping for the first time; or how we have so much food compared to the rest of the world and we could solve world hunger by sharing it. Some offered more detailed statistics.

But then they’d pitch the sermon on gluttony.

Pastor Mitchell especially liked this pitch: “Nowhere in the Bible does it say we’re supposed to close our eyes to pray, but there are over one hundred references to gluttony.”

He decided to spare himself the bother of fact-checking that stat.

Why would the church be so concerned about this particular topic?

It was all about Renn.

Renn Taylor had been involved in the church for several decades. When Mitchell Norris arrived, Renn weighed 165 pounds soaking wet. He was 3rd base on the church softball team, and on his turn at bat his home runs came from his speed running the bases, not the depth of the hit.

And now, many trips to Cracker Barrel and Chick-fil-A later, he was clocking in around 285 pounds. Word was it wasn’t genetic. Renn loved a good meal. If there was an underlying psychological reason for the gorging, Renn would have to want to talk to the pastor — or someone — about it. He wasn’t going say a word, nor did he feel he needed to. Renn was a smart man who knew that his former set of clothing was no longer fitting.

People joked about it with Renn, they invited him and his wife over for some ‘health food,’ they anonymously sent him diet books in the mail, they even offered to make him a doctor’s appointment.

They were obsessed.

They were obsessed with Renn’s weight gain.

And as for Pastor Mitchell Norris, he felt there were more important things in congregational life to deal with than a topic which might only apply directly to about a half dozen people, but would be perceived as applying to one individual in particular.

As long as Renn would be in the audience — and he rarely missed a Sunday — Pastor Norris was not about to give that sermon, or do the series on “The Seven Deadly Sins” for that matter. “I cannot;” he told his wife, “do a sermon on overeating, binge eating, weight problems, or anything else on that subject as long as Renn is sitting in the audience. He’ll see right through it.”

The more he refused to address the issue, the more people in the church dug in their heels.

“Gluttony is a sin;” they reminded the pastor.

“So is materialism;” he would reply.

Or on another day, “There’s sin in the camp;” they would affirm. “We can’t simply tolerate sin within the walls of our church family.”

To which Pastor Norris would reply, “And what exactly is sin?”

To that question, responses varied. Some attempted a sound theological answer, and a few got it right, but for most, sin was Renn Taylor, spotted last Friday having a cheeseburger at the Waffle House next to the freeway.

So Pastor Mitchell Norris preached a series, but not the one they were expecting. He pulled a sermon out of the files about worrying about the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye when all along you’ve got a plank in your own.

Then he spoke about the type of people who Jesus befriended, and how none of us really deserve to be part of his inner circle, but when he lets us in, it’s an act of grace.

The week after that one, he spoke about Peter’s preoccupation over what might happen to the Apostle John and how Jesus tells him it’s really ‘none of your business.’

When it was over, they told him it was some of his best preaching. That he seemed to have a fresh passion and urgency about his preaching.

He thanked them.

And then, in the week that followed, at different times and places, they asked him if he would consider doing a sermon on gluttony.

 

 

March 8, 2019

What’s Missing in the Modern Church Experience?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

This is about half of an article by guest writer Mike Glenn at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. You really need to click through — click the header below — to read it all, and the follow through to his conclusion. (I’m not including the spoiler.)

Church Attendance is Down, But Why?

…Fewer people are going to church.

Yes, there are reasons. For one thing, streaming services have impacted church attendance. If the weather is bad (meaning it has rained, might rain or … well, you get the picture), I’m sure to get several screen shots of people watching the services on line while wearing their pajamas. Not long after, a lot of these people will discover they can stream the service regardless of the weather.

Organizations that used to respect Sunday morning no longer do. Children have field trips and sporting events on Sunday morning most every weekend. Travel teams take up family weekends as the entire family follows the dreams of one of their children to play hockey, football, baseball, debate or gymnastics. Stores that used to be closed on Sunday start opening at 1pm. Now, they’re open all day.

Entertainment has discovered Sunday morning. The NFL kicks off at noon, but if you’re going to go the game, you have to go early for the tailgate. Concerts in the park, music festivals, food festivals, book festivals, and classic car rallies now consider Sunday morning to be prime time for their events.

I guess this is to be expected. Churches should not expect any culture to support the practices of their faith. Yet, there’s more.

For one thing, everyone is in a time crunch. Families are facing multiple demands from careers, schools and social obligations. The work/life balance has been compromised to the point many Americans can’t tell you when their work day actually ends and their home life begins. Most people are working longer hours than before, and social media demands more and more of our attention. Because of these growing demands on our time, most of us aren’t getting enough sleep.

When the weekend gets here, if we can catch up on some sleep we do.

All of this means when a person or family decides how they are going to spend their time, every investment of time has to be worth the time required. That is, more and more people are spending their time like they spend their money.

Every investment has to have a significant ROI – return on investment – or they won’t do it.

This brings me to a very hard question for those of us in church leadership. Is going to church worth it?

Why would anyone go to church?  …

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