Thinking Out Loud

July 27, 2020

John MacArthur vs. The State of California

Filed under: Christianity, current events — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:04 am

“That was unusual.”

Those were the first words from John MacArthur yesterday when, after walking to the pulpit at the beginning of Sunday morning’s service, he was met with a round of applause from a fairly packed house of congregants joining him for worship in defiance of an order by the State of California banning such worship services.

It was also the phrase going through my mind when I watched a service from Grace Church in Sun Valley for the first time. It’s not my usual routine. Not even close.

The service itself was somewhat normal for a conservative Evangelical church. For each hymn, attendees were told to take their copy of “Hymns of Grace” and turn to the respective page number. It was repeated each time instead of the usual, ‘Take your hymnbook,’ almost like a recurring branding. I sense the books are available for purchase.

Hymns were accompanied by a small orchestra consisting of 4 violins, a viola, a cello, two clarinets and a double (string) bass, at least as far as I could see. Then the pulpit lowered into the stage for an unobstructed view of the small orchestra as they performed an instrumental piece. Later there was another hymn and before the message the orchestra accompanied a male soloist. The prelude and postlude on the organ were very high-church.

When it came time for the closing hymn, people were instructed to sing loudly, one of the issues at the very core of the ban on worship services. In some ways, that instruction was more defiant than the sermon content.

The scripture reading was from Daniel 6. It was a fairly long reading, and the congregation was asked to remain standing for the whole time it was read.

The message basically echoed the theme from Daniel 6, that Daniel would not follow the King’s edict but would follow God instead.

At this point I discovered I had scheduled a Zoom call for the same time, and cut away from the message, only to find it later posted on Capstone. I may have missed a few minutes from the middle, but the theme and the trajectory were quite evident and I’ll leave it to other sites to provide quotations.

Toward the end MacArthur focused on the fact that abortion clinics are wide open, and used the later minutes of the message to comment on the murder of unborn children, while at the same time discounting the possibility of people dying due to attending the large assembly he was conducting.

I say that because at supper, my wife asked, “What are the chances that everyone attending the service was virus-free?”

In California, not very likely.

This morning comes word from the LA Times that the State of California is threatening to cut utilities (power, water) to businesses defying the order.

Would they do that to a church? We’ll have to wait and see.

April 16, 2020

Conspiracy Theories Just Never Stop

Filed under: Christianity, current events, media — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:07 pm

I was going to post something else earlier today, but I’ve just spent the better part of an hour chasing down a rabbit hole of sensationalism someone posted on their Facebook page; and more time thinking about it.

The story announced with great confidence that in the move toward online sermons, tech giants were blocking sermon content from Christian churches. [Pauses. Do I include the link? Nah, why bother. Search it if you must.] Notice that both sermons and churches are plural. The implication is that this is pretty widespread.

Instead, there was a reference to one church which had its app suspended over allegedly insensitive remarks concerning the Coronavirus. This church is headed up by a controversial pastor whose subject matter and content was probably already being closely watched. [Pauses again. Do I mention the church? Suffice it to say it’s in Moscow, Idaho. Some of you will immediately make the connection.]

Usually it’s televangelists who advance this theme. If they can unite you and me in the face of a common enemy, experience tells them that we will then reach into our pocketbooks and donate to the organization which has sounded the warning.

Fear = Funding.

I did not shoot from the hip at my friend who had posted the link on Facebook. Instead, I spent a long time trying to find other examples of this that weren’t based in countries already under a religious persecution watch. Instead, I found two other articles, one of which was an echo of the one posted, the other one of which was its source. None were major media, or even major religious media.

When you read something like this, do the research. You may not be trained as a journalist [considers temptation to add, ‘Neither am I, though I play one on TV.’] but you’ve got time on your side right now.

Check everything before liking or sharing.


We’re not doing link lists (Wednesday Connect) during this time because most items posted would have a single focus and you’re seeing those anyway.

However, it’s been announced that Willow Creek has named a new senior pastor. David Dummitt is the founding pastor of 2|42, based in Ann Arbor Michigan (where they have five services each weekend) with six additional campuses (many of which also have multiple services). He starts in June. See the full story at Religion News Service, which also links you to a formal announcement and video from Willow Creek. [Watching one of his sermons at his current church as I type this.]

Also: A longstanding teaching and music festival in the UK – Spring Harvest – was forced to become an online event this year which means you and I get to be part of it all week, April 13-17. Speakers and worship songs which may be unfamiliar to you! Refreshing! Check out the various videos at YouTube.

 

March 27, 2020

Nothing Much to Add to What’s Being Said

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:22 am

“A lot of people will be home,” I reasoned, “And a lot of them will be bored.” As I have often repeated, at the ten year mark I granted myself exemption from the drive to post daily here, but I figured this would be a good time to be creating content. Unfortunately, as I tried to put pen to paper — so to speak — I found it very difficult to engage any form of creativity. I’ve thought of re-purposing older articles, which I might do yet, but again, my spirit is simply too restless. 

It seems ‘tone-deaf’ to raise other issues. I know it’s been business as usual for some bloggers and Tweeters, but try as you might, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. Hopefully the extremists and one-issue writers have found their concerns fading into the background at a time like this.

Christianity 201 reaches that 10-year mark next week. I think it’s going to be come a Monday to Friday type of devotional blog at that point, but instead of slowing down, I have written a rather large number of original articles over the past two weeks, instead of borrowing them as I normally do. I’ll say more about that on April 1st, our tenth birthday.

We’ve become locally focused. For the past two Saturday nights I’ve coordinated a community bulletin board letting our people here know who was having services, who was streaming services, and if so, where that content could be found online. The first week — when 2 or 3 churches were indeed still gathering — the service was found to be quite valuable, but last week people were settled into the new normal routine. I probably won’t bother this week.

I never realized the degree to which Sunday worship sets my personal rhythm. I wrote about this last week, but it’s truer now than it was then. We won’t be gathering this week, and as God’s people, it’s part of our DNA to gather.

We own a Christian bookstore which has been forced to close. We have an enormous rent payment due on April 1st, and the landlord has not replied to any request for rent relief. I don’t talk about the store much here because I have a separate publishing-industry blog, and furthermore, I don’t see it as the epicenter of who I am or what I do. But right now all those resources are just sitting there, literally gathering dust, and many of them would be most helpful to people at a time exactly like this. Unlike your local church — which is probably very thankful that so many of you set up pre-authorized giving — we have not one cent of revenue coming in and won’t until the day we reopen. Easter sales are lost. We were heading for a record-high month in what has started out as a strong year, but now that’s lost.

I am not bearing this time well. I find I have an undercurrent of restlessness. I spent a half-hour yesterday afternoon reading selections from an old NASB New Testament which was my father’s, but the calm it brought didn’t last. By evening, I was in full anxiety mode. I want the nightmare to end, but each item on the evening news, and each new post on Twitter seems to suggest this is going to go much longer than originally forecast. This is a particularly nasty virus.

This is how you stop a plague. I believe this works, I support the science. But it’s not easy. In the notes to an online worship set for the housebound, the band Rend Collective posted, “Social distance is good for our health and the health of others… But it’s not really good for our souls.”

I couldn’t agree more.

March 10, 2020

Churches Respond to Coronavirus

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

With things moving quickly, I said to my wife this morning that who is to say, looking at it from a Tuesday perspective, that we will have a service this weekend?

The following (and today’s images) are all from a Twitter news sub-feed indicating what churches are doing, accessed at 9:00 AM EST today:

  • ‘No hugs, no handshakes’ seems to be the #1 rule in these times
  • Prevalence of hand sanitizer stations, or in one church, people receiving a pump of sanitizer from the priest before receiving communion
  • At many Catholic churches, the Holy Water has been temporarily removed
  • At other churches, no wine for Communion/Eucharist
  • At some, the priests are dispensing the wafers with a ladle
  • At Orthodox churches, parishioners are asked to honor the icons by bowing, not kissing them
  • Many churches are already streaming services online
  • People encouraged to stay at home if they’re not feeling 100%
  • Denominations and parachurch organizations are cancelling larger conferences and seminars
  • At a synagogue, the hamantaschen (triangular filled cookie; festival of Purim tie-in) are individually wrapped instead of being on a tray
  • Some LDS churches have purchased high-speed thermometers
  • Area around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca shut down for sterilization

While these address the more practical concern, there is also the issue of fear, worry, anxiety, etc., and the subsequent depression this situation can bring on. The ability of the capital ‘C’ Church to meet these needs will certainly be tested over the coming weeks. 

Addressing this climate of concern, while at the same time remaining transparent about urgency taking measures to not spread germs is a two-pronged challenge. 

Then there is the question if some of the things we do on a regular basis, such as the shaking of hands, the sharing of the cup at the Lord’s Table, etc., should be reexamined long after the current outbreak has passed.

March 9, 2020

Spurgeon on Coronavirus

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:45 am

I had something scheduled to go this morning which I decided to hold back, and at just the right time, a friend sent a link to this article from The Spurgeon Center, Spurgeon and the Cholera Outbreak of 1854. It’s rather timely.

The Broad Street Cholera Outbreak of 1854 occurred in August and September of that year, and its effects would continue to be felt in the weeks and months following. The neighborhood where Spurgeon’s church met was not quarantined, so they were able to continue meeting throughout those months. Interestingly, no record of the sermons Spurgeon preached during those days remain. Perhaps the outbreak forced the congregation to adjust some of their previous practices, including the transcription of sermons. Additionally, Spurgeon was likely too busy in those days to edit sermons for publication.

However, we know that the congregation continued meeting during those days because the church’s minute books contain records of congregational meetings carried on throughout the fall of 1854. In those books, amid all the pastoral challenges of the outbreak, Spurgeon and his deacons continued to receive new members, pursue inactive members, observe the Lord’s Supper, and practice all the other normal activities of a church. Not only that, but in retrospect, it was particularly during this time, when news of death raged all around the city, that Spurgeon found Londoners most receptive to the gospel.

The article lists five things that were evident in Spurgeon’s ministry at this time. I encourage you to take 5 minutes to click the link above.

For those who want to expand on the history lesson, there are a number of videos on YouTube relating to the epidemic, including the animated lessons on Extra Credits.

December 2, 2019

Currently, The Echo Chamber is Set at Eleven

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:38 pm

Two weeks ago there was an item in the link list (Wednesday Connect) that has come up several times since in conversation. Here’s how it ran two weeks ago:

■ Transgender Issues (2): …but this young person, after making the full transition, is left with nothing but regret. “I surrounded myself in an echo chamber that supported and validated my poor decisions, because the others were also, unfortunately, stuck in that pit, too.”

There’s a line in there I kept coming back to and this is the fuller context:

He started seeing the doctor a week after his 15th birthday, and from how he describes the next years of his teens, I’d say going to the clinic didn’t improve his life.

“From then on,” he says, “I slowly detached from everything until I was just staying home, playing video games, and going on the internet all day. I stopped reading, drawing, riding my bicycle. I surrounded myself in an echo chamber that supported and validated my poor decisions, because the others were also, unfortunately, stuck in that pit, too.”

A month after his 18th birthday, Nathaniel had what’s euphemistically called “bottom surgery.” For a male like Nathaniel, that means refashioning the male genitalia into a pseudo-vagina. He suffered some complications that required a second surgery a few months later, and he had facial surgery to further feminize his appearance.

Nine months later, he says:

Now that I’m all healed from the surgeries, I regret them. The result of the bottom surgery looks like a Frankenstein hack job at best, and that got me thinking critically about myself. I had turned myself into a plastic-surgery facsimile of a woman, but I knew I still wasn’t one. I became (and to an extent, still feel) deeply depressed.

The unpopular truth, which Nathaniel unfortunately learned the hard way at a young age, is a man is not a woman and can’t ever become a woman, even with surgically refashioned genitals and feminizing facial surgery.

Nathaniel is a bright young man who never had the benefit of sound, effective counseling, which would have prevented this horrible mistake from happening. He will deal with it for the rest of his life.

No one will help this young man to detransition. The so-called “informed-consent clinic” (as if a teenager can give informed consent) washed their hands of him. The reckless ideology claims another life.

(emphasis added)

Right now, the echo chamber is turned up all the way. It’s easy to make decisions when the only websites you visit and counselors you meet are affirming of a particular choice. Unfortunately, they don’t reflect the bigger picture.

We do this in other areas of life as well. We visit the websites which support our political views or our theological perspective.

Personally, I can’t imagine a world where the only input we’re getting is from people who simply look like us and talk like us.

 

October 29, 2019

MacArthur: A Lesson for the Boys and Men

Filed under: Christianity, current events, theology, women — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

This is about the 8th or 9th time I’ve found a Twitter thread that I felt was worthy of a wider forum or a different media. This time around the author is Tish Warren Harrison, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary (InterVarsity). I know as I’m typing this that some of you are weary of this subject, but I believe she offers a fresh perspective.

When everyone was talking about John MacArthur and “Go home,” I was busy having a human being, so I haven’t been online. But do I care? Of course I care. I care because I’m a female priest and care about Beth Moore. And because I care about the church. And here’s what I thought:

I have often said that I keep having this conversation — not just about women’s ordination/roles but about women’s catechesis/discipleship, institutional empowerment and accountability, theological training, leadership, and depth — for my daughters, but this week, I had a son.

And I have realized that we need this conversation just as much for him and every boy of the next generation. Because it is hard to be a faithful, orthodox Christian in the world. I think it is getting harder.

If boys and men can’t learn from and value the gifts, insight, teaching, knowledge, writing, ministries, and works of God in 50%+ of the church, it will be all the harder for them to walk with Jesus.

Sexism is a sin. We don’t often speak of it in those terms, but it’s not just “problematic.” It’s a principality and power. It is idolatry. And like all sin, it diminishes us as a church, not just those sinned against, but those who are in sin.

(And note I’m not talking about complementarianism as a biblical conviction, which is not what any of this is about — Beth isn’t ordained even. This is about if women can speak about God.)

May 9, 2019

The Contagion of Mass Violence

Despite what these nuns may think, the gun issue in the United States is no laughing matter.

School shootings have now been with us for a generation; two decades. Or so some news media would have us think, preferring to use the Columbine (Littleton) event as a game changer. In fact, a look at the School Shootings List on Wikipedia shows that incidents so classified go back to the 1800s.

A close look at the list shows that Columbine had been preceded by just eleven months by an event in Springfield, Oregon where four people were killed but 25 were injured.

There are also two other significant outliers: In August, 1966, 18 people were killed at the University of Texas (Austin) tower shooting; and in May, 1986 there was an event in Cokeville, Wyoming involving a bomb which injured 79, though only one death, other than the perpetrators’, involved gunfire.

When you scroll through the whole list however, events since the year 2000 take up far more than half the page, so the Columbine thesis has some validity.

I’ve written about this subject before and it has often brought accusations that I, writing outside the United States, should not be meddling in the gun control issue, since that is a political issue that Americans need to work out on their own. So I won’t state the obvious here and suggest that maybe, just maybe, civilian access to the AR-15 is a bad idea.

But when I’ve written before, I’ve talked about the idea that the killer(s) had no regard for human life.

While I believe that there is a contagion of gun violence — not dissimilar to other things which have swept through U.S. culture, such as the contagion of divorce — I think we need to dig a little deeper and try to figure what has fostered the disregard for human life.

Hang on, this is going to sound very 1950-ish or 60-ish.

I believe American television has played a role. A big role.

Last week I was watching a situation comedy on a U.S. network. Lighthearted fare. Watched by families and children.

During the second commercial break, which included promotions for upcoming shows, I watched three people get killed.

I found it interesting that here was broadcast content advertising programs which probably aren’t allowed to be shown before 9:00 PM, and yet at 8:17 they can air scenes depicting the very violence which causes those programs to be designated for later viewing.

How many shootings have American kids watched on television compared to their UK counterparts?

I think the answer would be significant because UK adventures/suspense/mystery programs wouldn’t broadcast people pulling out guns and committing murder if in fact the weapons are not in the average citizen’s possession in real life.

Up to this very day, it is widely agreed that the focus of censorship in the U.S. has always been on sexual content not violent content, whereas in parts of Europe violence is censored and the treatment of sexual scenes is more liberal. Do American television networks have complicity in the gun violence we’ve been seeing since 1991? Or the actors themselves? When I wrote about this on Twitter, I received this comment “The irony is Hollywood actors who speak out about gun violence but make millions of dollars wielding and shooting guns in their movies.”

Do British children have a higher regard for human life?

I don’t think that television is the only factor at work; furthermore if there is a contagion of violence, those germs are capable of crossing the ocean through social media and the export of U.S. film industry products around the world.

Children are imitative. If that’s what we show them, that’s what they grow up thinking is normal behavior. We’re telling them that life is cheap.

So to my American friends, yes by all means look at gun control and even the Second Amendment itself.

But also look at media control, broadcast control, film industry control.

 

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.

December 14, 2018

Strasbourg: From Someone Who Lives An Hour Away

We’ve linked to or reposted material from Lorne Anderson’s blog Random Thoughts from Lorne several times over the past few years. Lorne is a friend, so I get to ask permission after the fact. Montreal born, raised in Ottawa; Lorne has also lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Liberia, West Africa. Our interest today is because he and his wife are currently living in Germany, not far at all from Tuesday night’s attack just over the border in Strasbourg, France. When I read his article this morning, even though we covered this yesterday, I thought it was worth returning to the topic for one more day. The title below is a link to read it at source.

Terror Too Close To Home

This was as close as media could get on Tuesday night. The sign in English would possibly be something like, ‘Strasbourg: Your Christmas Capital.’ (Photo credit FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

by Lorne Anderson

When they are far away, they are just news items we may or may not pay attention to. It is different when they happen in your neighborhood.

Throughout the day Wednesday, people in Canada were forwarding me news stories about the terror attack at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. It is only an hour’s drive from our home in Sulzburg; it is conceivably a place we might visit. Indeed, I was in the city on business in October.

News of the attack brought a jumble of thoughts to my mind. As a journalist I was bemused by the coverage I read that described the suspect as having been radicalized in prison. It was supposedly a religious radicalism, though the particular religion wasn’t mentioned.

I get that. The media don’t want to imply that all followers of a certain religion are dangerous, so they omit the name. It was obvious anyway, given that the attacker, since killed by police, was allegedly shouting in Arabic.

I didn’t fully realize the effect locally until my wife mentioned she passed through two police checkpoints Wednesday on her drive home from a neighbouring town. It was thought the suspect may have crossed from France into Germany.

If the intention of terrorist attacks is to stop people from gathering, they are pretty much a failure. There was a deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin two years ago, but that doesn’t stop people from attending them today. I think most of us figure the odds are that there won’t be an attack while we are there.

I don’t know if there is much thought to security at these things, though from the news reports there was a lot of police presence in Strasbourg. Certainly there is none at the small-town markets in my area.

Even the bigger markets I have attended haven’t had much visible security. I don’t recall seeing police last year in Colmar, France or Vienna, Austria, this year. I did see police in Freiburg last month, but they weren’t at the Christmas market itself, rather keeping an eye on a street demonstration a block away. There have been lots of people at every market I attend – and I don’t expect that to change.

My first thoughts though upon hearing news of the attack was not about market crowds but of individuals, people I know here and how they would feel upon hearing the news. Becasue I think the intention of many terrorists, though they may not be able to articulate it, is not to strike fear into the general populace, but to sow a generalized fear of Muslims

In Europe, certainly here in Germany, it seems to me most of Muslims are immigrants and refugees. They don’t speak the local language well, they don’t dress like Europeans, they seem different. Integrating into European society (or any new society) can be challenging at best. When people view you with distrust because of your background, it is much harder. When they stare at you when you walk down the street, when you feel the mistrust when you shop for groceries, you wonder if it is worth it to try and fit in to this new society. You might as well give up – you will never be accepted as a full member of society.

That is the terrorist’s ideal. They don’t want Muslims to become French, or German or Canadian. They want them to remain part of a closed society. They want them to remain in bondage.

How we react to a terrorist attack says a lot about who we are. Are we willing to allow terrorists to set the agenda and convince us that all members of an entire religion are evil, intending our destruction? (Please note, I do think there is a difference between the religion and most of its adherents.)

Think about it. How would Jesus have responded? That is how we should too.

 

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