Thinking Out Loud

October 19, 2020

Be Careful What You Curse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:49 am

Ed Cash via WAY-FM on YouTube

Early last month I was watching a YouTube mini-concert where radio station WAY-FM invited the members of the band We The Kingdom into the studio for some music and light-hearted fun. (The series of musician visits is called “Songs from a Mug;” you can watch this one here. Jump to 14:00 for the story which follows.)

I didn’t realize that the band is fronted by Ed Cash. If you are a music publishing nerd likes me who reads the fine print credits on the worship slides at church, you’ll recognize his name on a number of popular songs, including co-writing some with Chris Tomlin. (You really should be focusing on the worship, though; not reading the copyrights!) The band also includes a number of his family members.

The subject came up about Tomlin and he told the story of being contacted by him the first time about doing some work — production or composing; I can’t remember — with him and Chris sent him a cassette. (I guess this was quite awhile ago!)

Cash was extremely disappointed as he listened. He wanted to get involved in the music scene in Nashville, but here he was listening to the simple, four-chord, repetitious type of songs that were everything he didn’t like about modern worship. He wanted to be involved in something more sophisticated. In fact, when he first heard, “How Great Is Our God” he laughed out loud.

And then it happened.

He says he really felt God speaking to him — in ways he’s never heard so audibly — these words: “How dare you curse what I have kissed.”

For some reason, I haven’t been able to get that phrase, as I remembered it after listening to the WAY-FM interview, “Do not curse what I have kissed” out of my mind. I think it applies to so many areas of Christian endeavor. How many things that we think are beneath us are things that God uses nonetheless?

Think about it.

October 14, 2020

The Most Uncomfortable Seat I Ever Had at Church

Arriving at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California for the first time in late 1979, I decided I wanted to have the whole Jesus People experience.

Calvary is known as the birthplace of Maranatha! Music and the Pacific Ocean baptisms in Pirate’s Cove. It’s the place where rather than hear the old guard complain about the rivets in the hippies’ blue jeans scratching the pews, they simply removed the pews.

But by the time I got there, the Sunday morning service was fairly traditional. They sang from Inspiring Hymns, the same hymnal my parent’s church used back home. Despite what the band Love Song sang about the “Little Country Church” with “Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties;” there were actually a lot of men in sport coats and ties. It took some adjusting.

One remnant still remained from the earlier days in their older building — which by that time was the Maranatha! Village bookstore — and that was the remnant of people who sat on the floor at the front.

I had to discretely shift my position a few times during the sermon. The floor was plush carpeting but I wasn’t a little kid who could sit cross-legged for an hour school assembly. I think I was somewhat sprawled out by the final one-third of the message. Probably a bit undignified, but I wasn’t alone.

Despite a sore back for the rest of the day, I’m glad I did it. I got to share a piece of history. I feel connected to those just a bit a older than me who sensed a call to the “church on the edge of town” to worship with others of their generation.

photo: Calvary Chapel via this story at Premiere Christianity (UK)

October 12, 2020

This Should be the Mission Statement of Every Church

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:58 pm

Back in March of 2012, I introduced a song and an artist to readers here with the statement, “This should be the anthem of local churches everywhere.” If you check out the lyrics below, you’ll see why.

This weekend, in the rotation of CDs we play during supper, this album by Eddie Kirkland came around again. It’s now playing on the stereo, for the 4th consecutive day. Eddie was part of the worship team at NorthPoint but then left for something much more liturgical.

I thought the timeless quality of this song made it worthy of re-sharing, 8½ years later:

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place


We want to be a refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love that breaks the walls and fills the streets


All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart


Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now


We want to be a door that’s open wide
We want to see compassion come to life
We want to carry truth that shines a beacon in the night


We want to see the city fill with hope
We want to bring peace to troubled souls
We want to tell the story of a God that we can know


All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart
Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found


Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now
Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now


Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now


All are welcome here
All are welcome here
All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart


Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now


Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now


Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now
Let it come in the here and now

October 5, 2020

The Dumbing Down of WordPress

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:38 pm
I can think of various reasons why I expected this blog to someday reach its conclusion, but not being able to compose articles the way I have done so here for 12½ years was never one of them.  
 
I’m typing this in HTML for the first time partly so I can enlarge the font as I’ve been doing for more than a decade. The theme for this blog, which has never changed, was chosen because it allowed an extra wide margin at a time when skinny column formats — no doubt influenced by the number of Blogspot blogs which existed at the time — were more dominant. I wanted something that made the text of the articles front and center. However it came with a very small default font.
 
I’ve often thought about upgrading the theme but I’ve kinda wanted to hang on to the old-school blogroll and other widgets in the right-hand margin (or at the bottom for those reading on mobile) for as long as I could. Having those links at my disposal when we were on road trips was especially convenient when using my wife’s tablet or laptop.  
 
But last week WordPress forced the new “block” formatting on me and with only a few hours to post the day’s devotional at Christianity 201, it was like learning a whole new language.   There are things I want to be able to do that I simply can’t.
 
While their system generously allows me to compose in the “classic” format, I can’t seem to then read what I’ve written in HTML to do things like quote poetry, add pictures, or add superscripts for footnotes such as1 that one! See this: H20. I know how to format that. And now I am being punished for having that ability because I can’t do it and use the visual editor at the same time.  
 
Poetry? So many times on WordPress blogs you see people quoting song lyrics like this:  
 

This is a verse  

Of a poem in my mind  

But has all these spaces  

Between all the lines

When in fact poetry should look like:  
This is how
A poem should read.
To eliminate the spaces
I often have need.
[Update: At first the example didn’t work. It forced double spacing not showing on my screen.] [Update to the update: Fixed it using evil ‘div’ tags, not the way it worked previously.]  Up until today I could do that at will.
 
So now we have WordPress for dummies. If I’m complaining it should mean I’m smart enough to learn the new language, right? Theoretically? But am I motivated? Not really; right now I’m more angry that this “block” nonsense was foisted on everyone.  
 
There are simply too many programmers out there who are being paid to reinvent things that simply never needed fixing.

October 1, 2020

An Entirely New Type of Website

Filed under: Christianity, internet, technology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:05 am

There’s an entirely new type of website out there. Perhaps you’ve seen them.

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I first became aware of them less than a year ago, though I suppose they’ve been around longer.

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They appeared as “Promoted” posts in my Twitter feed. I’ve been on Twitter since 2013. Generally, I like using it.

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A lot of people have Twitter. It’s a very popular service. I’ll bet you either have it on your phone or computer, or know someone who does.

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So maybe others have seen them, also.

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The Twitter posts begins with a provocative question or revelation or a picture that might pique your interest.

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“The most interesting things that ever happened in world history.” Or, “The most bizarre thing you’ve ever read.” 

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You say to yourself, ‘This will just take a minute.’ You really believe that to be true. It won’t be a waste of time.

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I don’t usually click on promoted posts, but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me. Perhaps you, too.

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The first paragraph is a reiteration of the headline or question or issue at hand. That’s pretty standard journalism. Introduce the topic in the first two or three sentences.

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Then there is an advertisement, but that’s okay, because the information is all going to come in the next paragraph, right?

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But the second paragraph is a bit of a teaser. Or filler. Things like, “I’ll be you’ve often wondered about this, haven’t you?”

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Then the information starts to flow, but it’s not exactly what the Twitter post mentioned, nor is it containing the photo image in the Twitter teaser.

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But it’s close, so probably a few more scrolls down the page and we’ll get to what it is that I was made to want to read.

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But the topic appears to offer a number of variants, rabbit trails and diversions. Each section is on-topic, but I’m pretty sure the substance of the topic is just around the corner.

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Except it isn’t. The paragraphs seem to be self replicating. The more I see, the more there is to see.

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I wonder if there is an end in sight. Or if my phone has the capacity to keep loading more.

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Because of the advertising, the page is getting graphically heavy, but I’m sure my phone has the storage to load more adverts and more paragraphs.

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I’m realizing the people who dreamed up this format are rather clever. They can promise advertisers — and actually deliver — eyeballs to match their pitches.

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And of course, they have to find writers who can be trained in writing this type of endlessly teasing copy.

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It’s a whole new type of journalism.

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But I’m also beginning to be able to sense these before clicking. Sniff them out, so to speak.

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So I’m thinking that you’re getting the idea by now, aren’t you.

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There truly is a whole new type of website out there, and I’m not so sure that it, like so many other aspects of the new technology, is doing us any good.

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September 28, 2020

Lost Embraces: A Lament


by Capt. Sheldon R. Bungay

originally published as The Phenomenology of Embrace; used by permission

I see the images flicker across my news feed and my heart yearns for justice,
yet another unnecessary black death, another riot, another shooting,
another political party fueling the fire and building a platform founded on a lack of truth.

I see the vitriol, the hate, and hear the cries of the oppressed,
I see the disease, the hunger, the lonely, and the dirty faces.
I see the mother who named her child, “Jihad” so that he will never forget.
I also see the sign that reads “stay six feet apart,”
and I cannot help but feel:
If I had the ability to wrap the whole world in a vast global embrace,
I would.

Alas, I cannot.

There is much that I miss from the time before now,
Near the top of that list is the simple embrace.

Why?

Because a hug is more than a form of greeting, or a nice gesture,
It is a drama that unfolds in four acts that has the power to convey much about the relationship between the participants and walks a fine line between love and oppression depending on the intentions of the one who initiates the contact.

Act One: Opening the Arms

This act is an opening of one’s self to another that says “come, be part of who I am.”

Found within these open arms are both a twinge of pain because we feel incomplete without the other, and a welcome sign that suggests I have created space within me for you!

Like a door left open that requires no knock, you are invited in.

Act Two: Waiting

What humility and risk! What courage it takes to extend your open arms to another without guarantee of acceptance or a reciprocated act. The other cannot be coerced or manipulated to respond if the embrace is to have full positive effect;
We have no confirmation that this is what the other desires, or longs for,
and so we…. Wait.

Act Three: Closing the Arms

There it is — goal achieved!

Isn’t it wonderful to think that a hug is only possible when what is being offered is fully reciprocated?
Do you ever think about the beauty of that moment when you are offering yet also receiving?
A true embrace cannot be one-sided, it only works when what is being given is also taken.
And it just feels right.

Act Four: Opening the Arms Again

Notice that an embrace is only love when it is released, if one does not let go the embrace turns to oppression and things get uncomfortable fast.
In a weird twist, an embrace can only be appreciated for what it is when we let go,
only to begin the longing process all over again.
And so, I open my arms to you, and know not if I will be
misunderstood,
despised,
appreciated,
or reciprocated.
But “embrace is grace, and grace is gamble, always.”

Anyone need a hug?


Based on Miroslav Volf’s concept “The Drama of Embrace”
Embrace is Grace Quote – Lewis B. Smedes.

Capt. Sheldon Bungay is a Salvation Army Officer currently serving in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada as Divisional Youth Secretary. Husband, Father of two, student, persistent question-asker and listener.

Graphic: File image, credited to James Sword

September 21, 2020

The Spirituality of Nations and Churches

Filed under: Christianity, leadership — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

At least 20 years ago, I heard someone ask rhetorically ask, “What is the most religious nation on earth?”

The answer given at the time was India. I’m not enough of an expert in world religion to dispute this, so I took it as given.

Then they asked, “What is the least religious nation on earth?”

The answer given was Sweden.

Then the person continued, posing the question, where does (or did) Canada fit into this imagery?

The answer given was that in terms of this analogy, “We are nation of Indians, governed by Swedes.”

In other words, at the time — and I would dispute this today — the impression was that in the heart of Canadian people was a hunger to maintain a committed and meaningful spiritual life; a sentiment that was not echoed by those same peoples’ representatives in government.

The phrase “a nation of Indians governed by Swedes;” has haunted me ever since. (For those who tuned in late, we’re talking about people from India, not North American aboriginals; and the statement is a metaphor only.)

Yesterday, I asked myself if that’s not true of churches.

I would say yes. Often there can be a disconnect between the hearts of the people in the chairs each week — the members, adherents, parishioners, congregation; call them what you will — and the people being paid a salary to provide for the spiritual direction of the church, as well as the volunteer leadership tasked with overseeing everything, whether we call them deacons or elders or wardens, or directors.

One particular church came to mind.

The church prospers I believe because the people have a love for each other and a love for God that is better reflected in their personal interactions throughout the week, and in some respects, their small group involvement. In other words, not “because of” but “in spite of” the church leadership.

The leaders meanwhile are preoccupied with projects and goals and visions and programs that often may be described as shallow and superficial. Wood, hay and stubble. With the occasional mix of a tempest in a teapot.

I know this because I’ve been, at times, shallow and superficial. It takes one to know one.

The disconnect is huge however, and once one becomes aware of it, it’s hard to continue to be as supportive of that church as perhaps one once was.


Flag images: Wikipedia, though in fairness to Wikipedia, I need to say I cheated with the dimensions of the Canadian one, which in reality is much wider horizontally (stated redundantly for emphasis).

 

September 15, 2020

Applying Our Energies Where God Is Already at Work

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

What is our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus?  There is the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” in I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b-8 …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do. I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow. So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important. The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

One pastor often told the story of a friend with whom he been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. The pastor often joked that after all his years of investment in the man’s life, this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy — especially if you’ve been a retail environment where people are working on commission — you could say that this man was not the second person’s customer, though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! But the pastor telling the story understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoices that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working. Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

 

September 14, 2020

A Non-Moviegoer Reviews Three Films

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:47 am

People think I’m kidding when I say that in 33 years of married life, we’ve been to the cinema about a dozen times. And two of those were lending some box office support to Veggie Tales.

Add to this that we don’t have cable, satellite, or a streaming service. And Blockbuster is long-closed. We’re simply not part of the movie culture common to so many including so many people who are in pastoral ministry.

So when someone offered us half-dozen unopened DVDs last month, we accepted with thanks. Add to that a title obtained a thrift store and next thing you know, we made a minor lifestyle adjustment which included a mini-NOOMA (Rob Bell) marathon on Saturday night.

I guess gathering in front of the giant screen in the evening is what normal people do, especially these days. We’re simply so busy doing other things.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A reporter is asked to write a 300-word profile on Fred Rogers and it turns into a 10,000 cover feature. Although people think of the film as “starring” Tom Hanks, the story-line is centered around that reporter and his wife, but that is all it takes to let the character of Mr. Rogers shine.

It makes you wonder how much of our lives are reflected in the people we’ve helped and served or perhaps even formally mentored.

Fred Rogers — both on the small screen and in real life — had a great influence on people from so many different walks of life and so many generations. That someone would even make this film speaks volumes about his life.

Overcomer

This is one of a seemingly endless series of movies from the producers of Courageous and Facing the Giants and Fireproof.

I have to give the producers credit that the sub-plot — or perhaps it was the major plot — about the family life of the young cross-country runner with asthma wasn’t included in the previews, which focused instead on the girl trying to better her running times to represent her school in a major competition.

In other words, you had an idea where the story was going, but then it introduced another element entirely. For that reason, I enjoyed that this had more than a one-dimensional storyline. The characters were stereotypical, but that goes with the genre.

Unplanned

The story of (now) anti-abortion crusader Abby Johnson was one I watched alone. To that end, my wife was right, it was rather gory; perhaps 20% more bloody than it needed to be. But this of course helps the film to make its point.

Unlike the two movies above, this one followed a somewhat predictable trajectory, especially as it is based on a true and well-documented story.  Johnson’s husband, while not supportive of his wife’s career, bides his time for many years waiting for her cathartic moment to occur. When it does, it’s presented realistically and vividly.

It’s evident early on why pro-choice advocates didn’t want this film to succeed. This would be painful to watch if someone has an abortion in their history, but for all others –including teenagers — it’s a cautionary tale.

 

September 12, 2020

Gospel Coalition: We Are Protestant… Are We? I’m Not

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:05 am

Earlier today a friend posted this on Facebook.

I need to say two things though. First, it’s from February. Second it says, “The Protestant Reformation is with Together for the Gospel.” So it may be more of T4G thing, though in my mind, T4G and TGC are pretty much the same.

The meanings of words change over years and decades. “Protestant” has come to be an abbreviation for “Mainline Protestant;” represented in the area where I live by the United Church of Canada, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Lutherans.

I am an Evangelical.

I realize the liabilities of that word, especially in the age of Trump, but that is the label I would want to wear, that is the identification I would want to own. The word isn’t perfect, and some Evangelicals wish we had a different one.

Better yet, I am a Jesus follower…

…So the question is, why would The Gospel Coalition want to proclaim that we are “born of protest?” Why would they not want to be associated with their Evangelical brothers and sisters? Why try to distance yourself from that?

I think the answer lies in the general trajectory of the modern neo-Reformed, neo-Calvinist movement away from everybody else. It’s part of a militant separation and fragmentation agenda they continue to advance…

…However, this isn’t news. I’ve written about it here before. Sigh!

 

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