Thinking Out Loud

April 12, 2015

From The e-mail Forwards Archives

Filed under: ethics, Faith, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 am

In the days before Facebook and Twitter, people would e-mail things like this to each other.

I grew up with practical parents. A mother, God love her, who washed aluminum foil after she cooked in it, then reused it. She was the original recycle queen, before they had a name for it… A father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones.

Their marriage was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away..

I can see them now, Dad in trousers, tee shirt and a hat and Mom in a house dress, lawn mower in one hand, and dish-towel in the other. It was the time for fixing things.. A curtain rod, the kitchen radio, screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. Things we keep.

It was a way of life, and sometimes it made me crazy.. All that re-fixing, eating, renewing, I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there’d always be more.

But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night, in the warmth of the hospital room, I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t any more.

Sometimes, what we care about most gets all used up and goes away…never to return.. So… while we have it….. it’s best we love it…. and care for it… and fix it when it’s broken……… and heal it when it’s sick.

This is true. for marriage……. and old cars….. and children with bad report cards….. and dogs with bad hips…. and aging parents….. and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.

Some things we keep. Like a best friend that moved away or a classmate we grew up with.

There are just some things that make life important, like people we know who are special…. and so, we keep them close!

I received this from someone who thinks I am a ‘keeper’, so I’ve sent it to the people I think of in the same way… Now it’s your turn to send this to those people that are “keepers” in your life. Good friends are like stars…. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there. Keep them close!

TEN THINGS GOD WON’T ASK ON THAT DAY

1…. God won’t ask what kind of car you drove. He’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation..

2…. God won’t ask the square footage of your house, He’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

3…. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet, He’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.

4…. God won’t ask what your highest salary was. He’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.

5…. God won’t ask what your job title was. He’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.

6…. God won’t ask how many friends you had. He’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

7…. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived, He’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.

8…. God won’t ask about the color of your skin, He’ll ask about the content of your character.

9…. God won’t ask why it took you so long to seek Salvation. He’ll lovingly take you to your mansion in heaven, and not to the gates of Hell.

10…. God won’t have to ask how many people you forwarded this to, He already knows your decision.

January 31, 2015

They Never Talked About It

Filed under: Faith, family, marriage — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

They were married for 37 years.

After she passed away, he says — and friends confirm — he cried ‘buckets and buckets of tears.’

“I don’t know where she is right now;” he told friends, referring his lack of insight into her eternal destiny.

They never had that conversation.

They simply never discussed faith-related subjects.

And here’s the surprise ending: They went to church almost every Sunday.

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”


~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.


Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books

 

October 27, 2014

Central Theme: The Cross

One of my strong beliefs is that instead of shutting down for the weekend, perhaps some blogs and websites should ramp it up a bit. For many people, the days off work are lonely and depressing. For several months awhile ago I actually ran extra posts on the weekend.

This week we ran what I thought was a fairly solid series of posts on Friday (parenting kids in the internet age), Saturday (a massive blogroll), and Sunday (one busy family’s activity log). But the rush to do all that left me crashing in terms of what to run on Monday morning. As I went through the archives, I found what you see below. When all the newsy stories, scandals, book releases, church statistics and leadership advice is done and dispensed with, this is what matters:

“I must die or get somebody to die for me. If the Bible doesn’t teach that it doesn’t teach anything.” ~ Dwight L. Moody
“The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden he carries it also.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
“Jesus now has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His cross.” ~ Thomas a Kempis
“In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter, I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.” ~ Philip Yancey
“God proved his love on the cross. When Christ hung, bled and died it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.'” ~ Billy Graham

October 12, 2014

Thank You For I Get Better

Filed under: Faith, prayer — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:16 am

Yesterday morning at the weekend conference we’re attending, the speaker talked about her young daughter who is just learning to pray.  She begins appropriately with thanksgiving — something many of adults need to remember — but then moves into the section of her prayers dealing with requests and petitions.

Problem is, she keeps the “Thank you” part of the language as she iterates those needs: “Thank you for my friend to get well;” or “Thank you for I get better.”

While she is grammatically incorrect, she is theologically wise. Thanking God for our needs is counter-intuitive in our results-oriented, instant-gratification culture. But it serves as a reminder of our dependency on Him; that He is God and we are not; that ‘I am weak but Thou art strong.’

Singer Andrae Crouch wrote,


“So I thank Him for the mountains
and I thank Him for the valleys,
and I thank Him for the storms he brought me through;
For if I never had a problem,
I’d never know that God could solve ’em,
I’d never know what faith in God can do.”

June 26, 2014

“That’s So Typical of Christians…”

I Like Your Christ - Gandhi

  • “I know what Dutch people are like”
  • “I know what left-handed people are like”
  • “I know what red-haired people are like”
  • “I know what people from Arkansas are like”
  • “I know what French people are like”
  • “I know what lawyers are like”
  • “I know what landlords are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

  • “I know what Christians are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

We are a community of the broken. We are fallen. We are flawed. So naturally you are going to see us at our worst as well as sometimes at our best. You’re going to see us not living up to the standard we should. You’re going to see us when we’re “moving toward the cross” and when we’re “moving away from the cross.”

Ideally, we are people of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness… Ideally, we are people of grace. Ideally, we reflect the character of the Christ we follow. That’s what we call “positional truth.” In terms of “practical truth,” we miss the mark, often by inches; often by miles. Just as suddenly, we sometimes get it right.

But we’re also not all the same. We have good days and bad days. We have people among us who are a real embarrassment to us, and people who truly model the life of Jesus in everything they do.

We are a community of faith. You don’t have to be “pure” to get in. You don’t have to “clean up real good” to join. It’s a “come as you are” party. And people do.

There’s no status, no seniority, no gender, no ethnicity; nobody can claim “spiritual dominance,” or “spiritual oneupsmanship” over any of the others. It’s as long and wide and deep as any cross-section of the broader society.

In fact, there’s no generic portrait of a Christ-follower that captures us all. There’s no homogeneity. There’s no ‘Mecca’ to which we must travel. No rites or rituals in which we must participate. No prescribed term of missions service we must all complete. No earthly head who speaks for all of us. No secret mantra we all recite.

There is respect for elders, yet sometimes “a little child will lead them,” and truths are spoken “out of the mouths of babes.” Younger brothers — even youngest brothers — are sometimes served by older brothers. Newcomers can make as viable a contribution as seasoned veterans. The next generation is free to reinvent the wheel. The generation after that is free to rediscover the ancient practices and classic disciplines.

It’s an upsidedown kingdom. An insideout kingdom. It’s a family. It’s “two or three gathered together” in a living room Bible study; it’s a multitude of people on a grassy hillside listening to a summer conference speaker. It’s elegant cathedrals and small country chapels. It’s quietness and solitude. It’s the making of a joyful noise with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

There’s the doctrine — what is believed. There’s the ethics — how that belief is lived out. There’s the experience — what happens to us when we believe the orthodoxy and live out the orthopraxy. There’s the ‘macro,’ big picture version of Christ-following; and there are people focused on the ‘micro’ issues, or a number of individual ‘micros.’

There are those who have locked in for life. There are those who will leave and then return. There are those who will drift away. There are those who will look in, but as one looking through a window from the outside.

Some will give tirelessly to this — in every waking hour. Some attend services at Christmas and Easter. Some give substantial parts of their income. Some give the minimum required to stay on a membership list. Some grew up with this faith. Others came as adults. Some nurture their children in their beliefs. Others feel their kids need to choose, to ‘take ownership’ of their concepts about God.

Personalities are factored in: While one person may be demonstrative about their faith, another might be reticent about their personal beliefs. Whereas one person might be given to an emotional, relational kind of worship; another might prefer a formal liturgy, a quiet, controlled worship environment.

So…

…do you still think you know what Christians are like?

I’m part of this, and I don’t. I just know that I’ve joined myself to a company of people who are trying to live a new life in a new way; a group of people who I otherwise would have nothing in common with.

Now, we have everything in common.

June 20, 2014

Gauging the Spirituality of Others by Superficialities

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you read The Message, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  (I Timothy 4:12, somewhat altered)

Good News bibleYesterday I had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me quite plainly that her Christian friends look down on her because she reads and memorizes verses in the Good News Bible (aka Today’s English Version).

This should raise all kinds of red flags.

First of all, it denigrates the translation itself. As BibleGateway.com‘s writeup states, “The GNT is a highly trusted version.” The American Bible Society continues to support the translation with fresh printings and formats.

But more important, it concerns me that her “friends” feel the need to implement correction in terms of her Bible reading choice. In other words, there is an attitude of superiority here, either in terms of their knowledge of what is the best Bible for her, or in terms of their own personal piety or spiritual maturity.  In Romans 14 we read:

4Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.

(Quoted, just for good measure, from the Good News Translation.)

There are so many things one’s choice of translation doesn’t tell us about the person. How often to they read it? How much time do they spend in the Word in each reading? How are they allowing the seed of God’s Word to take root in their life?

Good News for Modern ManWhy do we judge?

Why do we sometimes seem to want to judge?

Honestly, we don’t know the heart of another. Even our closest friends. I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7b…I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

But God is concerned with the heart.

I got the impression that her “friends” wanted to present a caring attitude, but were perhaps looking for a vulnerability or a weakness because they possibly see her as more spiritual than they are, and by knocking her down a peg or two, they were elevating themselves.

Still, in a “NIV versus ESV” Evangelical environment, it was nice to see someone voting for the Good News Bible.

 

January 6, 2014

We Track a Story People Were Willing to Die For

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

This appeared back in August — that’s forever ago in blog years — at Nailing It To The Door, a blog by Dan Martin. It was the eighth in a series of posts titled, Why I Believe; this one being The Testimony of Witnesses. To read this at source and then navigate to find the other parts, click this link.

There is no question in my mind that one of the most compelling reasons to believe specifically the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings is the testimony of those who were there.  This is, I’m quite sure, a problematic claim for those who object to faith; I’ve encountered many rants on the unreliability of the gospel accounts, though I find that the same people who protest about the unreliability of the gospels tend to be far more credulous when looking at any other ancient written histories.  But there are two particular things about the Apostles and other first-century Christians that I find highly compelling.

The first is specific to the Evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels (and I really do mean the canonical ones; I’ve read a number of the others and they differ so much in character that the judgment of the councils in rejecting them seems to me quite sound).  C.S. Lewis probably said it best in his 1959 lecture “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism:”

“I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this… Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.” (see the full essay here; quote on p. 155)

Put perhaps a little more simply, the gospels just don’t look like anybody else’s idea of what mythical or divine characters ought to be, do, or say.  Weird and off-center as they might seem now, they were even weirder and less-probable in the time they were written.  Things only turn out that oddly if they’re either real (truth really is stranger than fiction) or very creatively written.

But even more compelling to me is the fact that the authors and their other compatriots were willing to die for the truth of what they had written or said.  And die they did, in some pretty horrible ways.  According to tradition and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563):

  • Philip was crucified
  • Matthew was “slain with a halberd”
  • James the brother of Jesus was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death
  • Matthias (elected to replace Judas) was stoned and beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was “dragged to pieces”
  • Peter was crucified upside-down
  • Paul was beheaded
  • Jude was crucified
  • Bartholomew was beaten and then crucified
  • Thomas was speared
  • Simon the Zealot was crucified
  • John was “cast into a cauldron of boiling oil,” survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos; “He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.”
  • Barnabas is said to be martyred, though the means of his death is not reported.

These guys, unlike later generations of Christians killed by the thousands under various rulers, knew exactly what they were dying for.  They claimed to have seen and heard it themselves.  If they were faking it, they sure were willing to take their deception to a really crazy, extreme end.

I’m not saying that death alone testifies to truth.  Many hundreds and thousands have died for falsehoods throughout history … I think of the infamous Jonestown mass suicide in the 70s … but the difference, at least as I see it, is that these people were deluded by a charismatic leader who ordered them to their deaths.  Jesus did no such thing, and in fact he was already dead and gone (if we presume fakery) or dead and raised (if we accept the Gospels) before any of the apostles faced their deaths.  These men went willingly to gruesome deaths because they couldn’t recant the truth of what they’d spent their lives teaching.

There are, of course, many more martyrs since the first century.  While I have no desire to diminish their testimony, it seems to me that it’s of a different category.  Except for however they may have experienced the Holy Spirit in their own lives, the thing for which they died was removed from them in that they no longer could testify to having seen Jesus with their eyes, heard his teachings from his very lips with their own ears, and even sat and broken bread with him.  No one, however intense their experience, has had the same level of personal, experiential linkage to Jesus Christ that those first-century apostles had.  And when they were invited to either confess to their lie or die in pain, they insisted it was no lie and accepted the consequences.  Two millenia later, that testimony remains, to me, difficult to refute.

January 5, 2014

How Do You Know You Became a Christian?

Filed under: evangelism, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:21 pm

When I’m in a general market bookstore like Barnes and Noble (or Chapters in Canada) I make a point of hanging out in the Bible aisle and getting into conversations with people. Many people are purchasing a Bible in a relative vacuum and store staff can’t offer the same advice you’d get at a Christian bookstore.

So on Saturday, when the opportunity appeared to present itself, I told the guy that I kinda work in Christian publishing and if he needed any advice on his purchase…

 “I have a doctorate in divinity;” he replied, “and I preach and teach around the world.”

By the tenor of his conversation, I knew that the tables had been turned on me that time. (I also got that humility wasn’t his thing; but that’s topic for another day.) This was clearly a man that doesn’t suffer fools, and that could have shut down the whole conversation right there; but I persisted by explaining what I do and why I asked.

He then asked me, “When did you become a Christian?”  This was quickly followed by, “How did you become a Christian?”  Finally, the most interesting question of the lot, “How does someone become a Christian?”

I liked his forthright manner.

The answer to the first for me would be as a seventeen year old. True, I “accepted Jesus” when I was seven, but I lived a very dualistic lifestyle all through high school. It was at seventeen I took ownership of the faith I had been raised in, the belief system I had been baptized into.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it.

For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want to be under the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.)

…So, you’re in a bookstore like me, or a grocery store, or getting your car fixed, or your hair styled, and you’re asked, How does someone become a Christian? Do you have a ready answer? Is your answer different when explaining it to someone with a doctorate in divinity than it is explaining it to your mechanic, or mail carrier? Should the answer be different depending on the hearer?

A divinity student named Tweedle
When Refused to accept his degree.
He said, “It’s bad enough being Tweedle,
Without being Tweedle, DD”.

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