Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2017

The Modern Church Dilemma: People Belonging Before They Believe

Filed under: Faith, family, media, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Movie Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

It’s become a recurring theme: Someone wants to help out at church but their spiritual status is not-yet-arrived, ambiguous, or hard to authenticate. Parking lot duty? Not a big issue; but many seeking an avenue of service are looking at the platform; so many of these requests involve music ministry or something related.

That’s what’s at the heart of the movie The Resurrection of Gavin Stone which after a brief theatrical run is now releasing on DVD. In this case, the protagonist is looking to be involved with the church’s annual drama production. His theology is sketchy, to put it kindly. But in addition to being very good at acting, he’s also a former child star still possessing considerable name recognition.

The director isn’t really torn. She sees this as not conforming to the requirement that platform participants share a testimony of life change through Jesus Christ. But the senior pastor, who also happens to be her father, is more open to the possibility that God is offering the church a rare opportunity to do something which will both bless the actor and bless the church.

So for the first premise-introducing one-third of the film it’s a simple matter of laying out the plot. During the next third, my attitude was, “This isn’t that bad.” But by the final third of the movie they had won me over. Even my wife who is usually a tough critic when it comes to Christian cinema was very positive toward the film.

It wasn’t the authenticity of the portrayal of the various characters, though that was extremely good. It wasn’t the realism of the sets and location shots, though they were well done. Rather, it was the genuine nature of the problem; namely that churches we know are wrestling with this issue all the time now and someone has finally fleshed this out in a screenplay.

Fans of The Middle on ABC-TV will recognize Neil Flynn who plays Gavin Stone’s father. Tangential perhaps, but interesting that Middle co-star Patricia Heaton has been a force behind Affirm Films. Not so tangential was my wife’s comparison between The Resurrection of Gavin Stone and Heaton’s Moms Night Out. Worldwide rights for this picture however were purchased by WWE Studios, and wrestler Shawn Michaels has a significant role in this picture as well.

In the first few minutes, we recognized a hallway from Harvest Bible Chapel’s Elgin, Illinois campus where much of the filming took place. Again, it’s entirely plausible that a church like Harvest would face a dilemma such as what to do with Gavin Stone.

At the end of the day, this is a romantic comedy. While ecclesiastic nerds like myself might get lost in the doctrinal quandaries of qualifications for service, you don’t have to be a regular church attender or even a Christian at all to get the tension in the plot.

Which is, come to think of it, exactly what the movie is all about.

 

February 16, 2017

Camped Out on the Edge of Belief

southern-ontario

I mentioned a few weeks ago that twice a year I am asked to write a devotion for our local newspaper. It presents a number of challenges, not the least of which is trying to keep it under 550 words. If I I’m writing for C201, I don’t include things that begin with illustrations; we cut to the chase of studying text. But I have to include some type of local references, to our town about an hour east of Toronto. I thought I would share with you what I came up with awhile ago. Your comments are invited.

As I mentally scan the map, I can’t think of any place along the southern tier of Canada where it’s possible to be so close to the U.S. border but have to drive so far to get there. On a clear day, you can see a generating station’s smokestack across the lake with the naked eye, but entering New York State involves either a nearly two-hour drive in either direction to reach a border point.

In many ways, it’s a metaphor for the relationship that Canadians, especially in the days before today’s religious pluralism, had with Christianity. Even now, many sit camped out on the edge of belief. They might even hold church membership or do volunteer work, but a spiritual heart examination would show that they’ve never crossed the border of commitment; they’ve never placed themselves, by faith, under the covering of the cross.

We can all see the border. We see it in the chorus of our federal anthem, which is a prayer for God to keep our land free, just as we see it still in some municipal councils where another prayer acknowledges the sacredness of God’s name, invites His kingdom to be fulfilled and recognizes His power and glory. We see the border when local churches step up to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, join en masse a walkathon for Multiple Sclerosis (canceling a Sunday morning service in the process) or feed the hungry through the Salvation Army…

Just as we can watch U.S. television stations and listen to its radio so easily, because the border is so close, we live in a time and place which has been influenced by Christianity, but still, many hesitate to fully enter in, to fully engage, because, figuratively speaking, the drive to the border is too long. Nothing of urgency has forced us to make the trip.

In Acts 26, we read the story of an encounter between the Apostle Paul and King Agrippa. This is Paul’s moment to secure his release from custody, but from a legal standpoint, he squanders the opportunity and instead tells Agrippa the basis for his belief that Jesus is the long-anticipated Messiah, the deliverer of Israel in particular and mankind in general.

As Paul is speaking, Festus, the Governor, interrupts and says what many still say to passionate followers who seem more heavenly minded than earthly good: “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (vs. 25, NLT)

But Paul calmly reminds him that none of the occurrences in the Jesus story were made up, nothing was done in secret, “for this thing was not done in a corner.” (vs. 26, KJV) Agrippa and Festus need merely to check out back issues of The Jersualem Times to read the accounts for themselves of Jesus’ teaching, miracles and crucifixion.

And that’s where Agrippa says, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian;” (vs 28, KJV) or “Keep this up much longer and you’ll make a Christian out of me!” (vs. 28, MSG)

But a few short verses later the scene ends. We’re left with the picture of King Agrippa camped out on the border of belief, but, to return to our analogy again, he never gasses up the car and makes the run for the border. Full commitment is in view, he can see it with the naked eye, but nothing of urgency forces him to make the trip that day.

Perhaps that sounds familiar.

 

February 13, 2017

My Personal Battle With PTSD

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:17 am

Originally, I never thought of it in PTSD terms, and it’s not like I did a tour of duty in the Middle East. Instead, it started our gradually, with phone calls from the seniors’ home where my mom was living. The calls always came late at night, when the staff were wrapping up paperwork once the residents were sleeping.

  • She had another fall today.
  • They’re putting on her a new medicine.
  • We’ve noticed she’s not eating so much.
  • The doctor’s concerned about her circulation.
  • She fell again today.

I realize these health care workers have a responsibility to notify families, but the calls always came at an hour when we were winding down for the evening and wanted to relax, not deal with tension. We asked for “emergencies only” notification, but we had different definitions as to what constituted an emergency.

It got to where every time the phone would ring I would tense up, and now that she’s gone, the after-effects of this stress continue.

Telephones often bring bad news. Especially now when other forms of communication happen through email or on social media or texts. Four years ago, long before the worst of this experience was to take place, I recognized that having a calming ringtone doesn’t change the fact that it’s a phone call.

ring-tone

So again, while I wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan, I do have little bit of empathy for people who are bound by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It’s no fun living with anxiety, stress and tension and while having a strong faith and trust in God ideally brings peace amid the chaos, it doesn’t always work that way. Rather, the disconnect between the elements of faith we profess regarding God’s sovereignty and protection, and the inner turmoil we’re experiencing in the situation; that disconnect only adds to the problem.

A person dealing with PTSD is a person in desperate need of joy.

 

October 11, 2016

Remembering

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

spiritual-legacy-2Yesterday my mom passed away just before noon after a long, gradual decline in health. It was a day for processing many different emotions

  • the mixed feelings you get when you know it’s someone’s time to go and you’re even praying for that, when in earlier days you would have prayed for strength and healing
  • the myriad of things which must be done at a time you would rather just relax and deal with the loss itself but now you’re too busy
  • the reactions from other people who knew her albeit in a completely different relationship than your own and finding yourself envious of those relationship dynamics
  • the tremendous amount of support from people who are for you and in your corner, who you didn’t realize would react so strongly to your loss
  • the people who tell you that they were praying for you; that they have been praying for you for a much longer time than you would have otherwise known

I will write something about my mom’s life here on another day. There is so much to tell. For now I am so grateful to be surrounded by a faith community that impacted me so powerfully in the past several hours.


Related: Four Ways to Pass Down a Spiritual Legacy

September 23, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, Faith, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

clarke-dixon-picClarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor whose posts at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon end up at Christianity 201 on Wednesdays or Thursdays. The one this week was a little bit different, though; and I thought it would be a good fit here as well…

Guest post by Clarke Dixon

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

August 14, 2016

Becoming a Christian by the Numbers

…or in this case, The Book of Numbers

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman on Friday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Could you retell this Bible story?

That was the question we asked yesterday, noting that most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. Because I think it’s so important, we’re devoting this weekend to looking at this from different perspectives using a mix of fresh commentary and some things that were originally posted at Christianity 201.


…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Yesterday we kicked off with the old hymn “At Calvary” and today it’s “Heaven Came Down.” I’ve noticed that when people get older they mind starts to recall classic pieces that are no longer sung in the modern church.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy
[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.
— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.

But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

The verse recalls the story from the book of Numbers we looked at yesterday, often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV) 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through yet another hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to...

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

It’s interesting how the Numbers 21 story is so prominent in the lines of that chorus, but do we have anything in modern worship to replace that? Does our vertical worship allow room to take these Bible narratives and recite them in song?

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

I also recognize that many are uncomfortable with a transactional view of the regeneration of the Spirit at salvation. I think sometimes we can suffer from what is called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps a more modern — albeit still about 40 years old — scripture chorus can help us:

He paid a debt he didn’t owe
I owed a debt I couldn’t pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing grace!
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world. That moment of salvation can happen in an instant, what is sometimes termed the crisis view of salvation, or it can take place over a time, what C.S. Lewis and others might call the process view of salvation.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for everyone to have an exact date that they can point to (or have written in the front cover of their Bibles) when they crossed that line of faith, but I think you know in your heart when you’ve arrived at that point.

To repeat what we said yesterday, the people in the Numbers 21 story didn’t have to do anything beyond simply looking to the cross for their deliverance. That’s the part of the story you need to be able to impart to people who want to determine their next step on their journey to the cross, even if you don’t spell out the whole story itself.


Today’s music:

For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.

For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.

Go Deeper:

To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.

To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.

Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.

August 13, 2016

Ambulance Chasing and Evangelism

Yes, There’s a Connection

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman yesterday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to have to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Do you recognize this Bible story?

This is the cover of a children’s Bible story book, available for only $2.49 US at most Christian bookstores. Yet most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. I’ve covered this about five times at Christianity 201, but realized it’s never been looked at here. Over the weekend, I want to spend some time on this theme.


Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer. An old hymn stated:

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

(If you’re not familiar with this, click here to read all 5 verses.)

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

ambulance symbolI believe it’s not only important to know this story in a “conversationally familiar with” sense, but also important to teach people how to teach people this story. By the way, when I teach this to people I often point out that this story is the basis for the symbol seen on many ambulances and other emergency vehicles. I would say that most of the people I talk to are astounded to learn the connection.

While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s often needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process; and this story provides a simple way of explaining that there’s nothing the person has to do to obtain salvation beyond simply looking to the cross.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this again in a different way. Stay tuned. Meanwhile here’s a great graphic from Adam4D:

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Here’s some other material for your consideration:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

February 20, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Christian? Is the Pope Catholic?

Much ink has been spilled and much energy has been spent trying to flesh out the subject of “who’s in and who’s out” in matters of the Christian faith. Only God knows. The religion news story of the week was Pope Francis weighing in on Donald Trump’s faith and Trump’s inevitable response. The Pope asserted that Christians work to build bridges not walls, and on the basis of a statement reflecting this particular fruit of Trump’s character, implied that Trump’s Mexico/USA border wall concept is not consistent with identity as a Christian.

But on what do you base an assessment of someone? Within my own sphere of acquaintances there are people who disagree on a wide variety of subjects; some of which are part of Biblical interpretation, some of which are ethical, and others of which are reflective of the living out of their faith in everyday life. Is any one of these a significant marker of one’s spiritual sincerity or authenticity? Is there a single litmus test of orthodoxy? And is the in-versus-out question based on what I do today or tomorrow or on faith commitments I made at an earlier stage of life? Can I be in one day and out the next?

One of the best articles I’ve seen on this topic is in the book A is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer in which they speak of bounded sets, centered sets, and dynamic sets; along with helpful diagrams. It’s a book I keep handy, but the lateness of the hour on Friday prevents me from scanning in those pages, so you’ll have to settle for someone else’s work. On the previous page there is a circle with no center point; one is defined as either in or out. X, Y and Z below are all in, but B and C are certainly close. Then they introduce centered-set thinking:

Bounded Set, Centered Set, Dynamic Set

For most of you, this either simplifies things or makes it more complicated. (There’s a logical statement.) But it illustrates the degrees to which people go to try to think through the issue of who’s in and who’s out.

In searching for the graphic I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis along with another diagram:

Christians as centered set vs bounded set_thumb[5]

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

 ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

So while the media has fun with the friendly banter between the Pope and the Presidential wannabe, know for sure that deciding on either the present devotion or the eternal destiny of anyone in particular is way above our pay grade. We can’t do it when speaking of individual people because we’re not God; but Lewis argues that dealing with it theoretically has no value.

 

 

January 11, 2016

Do We Even Worship the Same God?

Filed under: Faith, God, Religion — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:41 am

Note: In some respects this is a part two to Saturday’s post, Can People of Other Faiths Be Worshiping the Same God?

Google-GodOn Saturday morning, my wife and I set out for the big city to help our oldest pick out what will be his first automotive purchase. The day resulted in completed frustration and failure, and ended up with our own car breaking down on the freeway and requiring towing back to our home.

But earlier on, when the mood was lighter, we were discussing Saturday’s blog post regarding the shared history of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and the question as to whether or not we worship the same God or simply seek the same God; and all of this in light of the Larycia Hawkins/Wheaton College situation in the U.S.

We wondered if perhaps there is not a more common, pedestrian use of the phrase “Are we even worshiping the same God” which comes up more often.

It comes up when you encounter people whose drive for success and wealth and material prosperity overshadows their understanding of scripture.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or people whose devotion to a particular Bible translation seems to overshadow their love for God.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those Americans who somehow manage to equate the gospel with a particular particular party or view on a touchy political subject, such as gun control.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or church members whose busy-ness about the programs of their local congregation mean that you can’t see Jesus for the church activitees (think forest, trees)

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those friends whose conversation reflects constant references to their love and admiration for a particular author or televangelist but little in the way of references to Christ.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

…We have enough struggles in the church sometimes with clarity of identification; we often don’t adequately define our terms. I also think we also completely obscure our message when we put other things in the place of Christ, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or all three.

I have acquaintances with whom I disagree on a doctrinal point here and there. But I also have acquaintances whose faith is comprised of so many things that are so very different from my own understanding of the character and nature and ways of the God I serve that I do in fact find myself asking sometimes,

Are we even worshiping the same God?

 

 

November 14, 2015

The Pastor and the Worship Leader Need to Be Best Friends

Note to readers: Because we were away all day Friday, this post was scheduled before we learned of the tragic events in Paris, France yesterday. For that, we have no words.

I came across the article in the spring of 2007 in Worship Leader magazine, never realizing how it was about to change my life. They interviewed a number of worship leaders in the U.S. — magazines like WL are usually unaware that anything exists outside the U.S. — on the subject of their relationship with their senior pastor.

worship-leaderMany mentioned the need for friendship, the need to be doing things together outside the office. As someone who was involved in a weekly worship activity that resulted in a senior pastor relationship which was entirely “task related,” I suddenly figured out why I had the nagging feeling that something was missing. The WL magazine article very clearly articulated the disconnect I was feeling, and realizing that was not about to change, I quit doing that job at that particular church. 

Basically, I realized that I was a utility, an implement; and while he was willing to listen to my opinions about a variety of subjects, I was really there because I knew how to play the piano. Nothing more. But what to do with the extra time and creative juices?

I knew that I made the right decision each morning when I would log in to the internet. Both the readers of this blog and the writers at the vast number of other blogs I monitor each week have gave me a new ministry life that far exceeded the boundaries of anything I was doing previously. And it wasn’t a cold turkey ending to my music life: I occasionally still got to do a few things musically, but also reached an age where I was actually consulting with other worship leaders and getting to give all kinds of advice, some of which was actually respected.

But I often consider the question of the relationship between pastor and worship-person, and here is what I have concluded:

(1) It’s not enough to know where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding you and your congregation in the worship element of the service; you need to also have a sense of where the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding the senior pastor in the teaching element of the service, and the other participants leading the service, too. You need to work, no make that minister well together.

(2) While the Holy Spirit is able to impart all kinds of information like this to you supernaturally, and while the Holy Spirit is hopefully leading both pastor and worship leader in the same direction, this aspect of ministry can only work well if the pastor and worship person know each other well as humans, as people, as friends. It’s only when I know the natural impulses and responses that a person manifests on a human level that I can truly appreciate when God is doing something unique on a given day on a supernatural level. You need to know each other well.

Worship leaders and pastors should be good, good friends. Maybe not BFF friends, but they should have both a good working relationship, and a good off-task relationship.

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