Thinking Out Loud

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

 

Advertisements

August 7, 2016

Guys: Do You Deserve Respect, Or Earn Respect?

respect

Through an interesting series of circumstances, today we’re introducing you today to blogger Gene S. Whitehead who tells us that this 2015 article has been the top-performing item at his site. We even have permission to use this! (Well, sort of; it’s a long story…) You can also click the title below and read this at his site in a much nicer font than we have! You might even want to leave a comment…

Respect – Do You Deserve It or Earn It?

Gene WhiteheadMale Respect: Earned or Implied?

Men, put your boots on because I may step on some toes here. Guys: when was it decided that respect was an automatic thing? Who planted this notion into the male mindset that we, simply by being born male are due to receive respect? And whatever happened to respect being something earned and not simply given?

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31

The more I interact with my fellow men, I begin to realize to what extent some of the fathers have failed the sons. When a man believes that by being in the position of leader, or head of household, respect is automatic. Not so.

Did you ever have a boss you didn’t respect? Why didn’t you, he was in a position calling for respect, wasn’t he? Did he demand it or expect it but not display the character deserving of respect?

You know the type of person I’m talking about, one who leads by authority and position rather than by character. Does this impact the integrity of that person? How much more so when that person is “leading” a family, when the impact and the fallout are absolutely beyond measure, affecting wives and children?

Now before you dust your Bibles off and start shooting verses at me like fiery arrows, let’s make this first distinction of what I am not talking about:

Positional vs. Earned Respect

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” – Charles Reade

True, being in a position of authority does imply some level of respect. That’s called positional authority, meaning absolutely anyone in that position would garner the same exact level of respect.

What you do, who you are, the character of your person while in that position defines whether you build on that respect or if you maintain the respect due to your position, which believe me, isn’t much no matter what you keep telling yourself. “But I’m the man.” Yes. Now act like one and earn what you think you deserve!

Earned respect exists in that place where you have sacrificially related to those whom you are leading, especially our wives and our children.

The irony is this: the less you expect and demand respect, the more you earn when you are present, involved and by character leading the way and learning from your mistakes, and don’t miss this: the more respect you are giving by serving others, the more you deserve and earn.

You see, respect is not automatic, for that is authoritarian. It is earned and that by the things mentioned above: sacrificial love, serving others, being present, giving of your time- all of which build your character.

Titus 2:7 says that we should show ourselves “in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity…”

There Was a Time…

I married young, it was 10 days before my 20th birthday. Admittedly, I was immature and not ready for the position of authority I had found myself in, and much less that following year when my first daughter was born.

Guys, I’m writing this because I was that guy, thinking that I would somehow be miraculously endowed with leadership capabilities deserving of respect. Would you be surprised to know that is not at all how life happened?

That is not to say that there aren’t twenty year old men out there who are ready and able to do what I could not, just as there are men in their thirties, forties, fifties and beyond who still are not ready!

I share this to say that I have been at both ends of this pool, in one end expecting respect and in the other having earned it, and the message is that you do not want to sit in that shallow end of this pool for years like I did.

Men, We Can Do Better

Guys, it doesn’t matter how well or how poorly we may have taught or what kind of examples we have looked to and learned from. We can do better. We must do better.

Everywhere we turn in today’s world, leadership is failing. We see it in governments, schools, journalism, churches and in our very own homes, everywhere around us male leadership is failing. It’s time to stop that ride.

How do we do it?

I can’t tell you there is any single answer to this, there is no magic bullet. but there are most definitely steps I have taken in my own journey.

And because I don’t have all of the answers, I have much more to learn and many more steps to take, but here’s a start:

  • Serve. All the time. You don’t earn (or deserve) respect by being served but by serving and setting examples.
  • Be quick to admit when your at fault, then proceed to make things right.
  • Be even more quick forgiving others of their faults.
  • Be a giver; a giver of your self, your energies and especially your time. There is nothing more valuable that you could give.
  • Speaking of time, value the time you are given to spend with those you love. It can disappear in a flash.

If you are married:

  • Treat your wife as the absolute one of a kind, irreplaceable treasured gift that she is. Even when she’s not acting like one.
  • Be the decision maker but above that, consider carefully the ideas, opinions and especially feelings of your wife. Marriage is a team sport and the decisions we make, men, do not simply affect us. But they do reflect on us.

July 1, 2016

The Music That God Likes

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favorite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fiber of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

 

~Ruth Wilkinson


Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

June 14, 2016

What Every Conservative Christian Needs To Know About The Pride Flag

Today’s post needs a three point set-up. First of all, our friend Martin D. at Flagrant Regard broke radio silence with his first blog post in eight months. Second I believe he posted this before the news from Orlando hit; there is no direct connection as to the timing. Third, this begins with a distinctly Canadian perspective, but I think the rest of it is fully accessible to readers in various countries.

We wanted to share this with readers here, but I’m going to close comments so that you can respond directly at his blog. Click the title below, and then scroll down to “Comments Most Welcome.”

TRUE COLORS: What Every Conservative Christian Needs To Know About The Pride Flag

In light of two recent events; one being the declaration by mayor John Tory that June 2016 is ‘Pride Month’ in Toronto, and the other, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hoisting the pride flag at the house of commons in Canada’s capital just over a week ago, it’s understandable why traditional or conservative Christians are a tad ticked off.

Most evangelicals and Roman Catholics continue to maintain that homosexuality or same-sex partnering/parenting is not God’s default design for men and women and believe it to be an outworking of the sinful nature. And because of that, they are annoyed at how much attention the pride movement gets. We’ve gone from years of having an entire week dedicated to pride celebrations to a month long event and hey, the way things are headed, 2017 is setting up to be Pride year and 2020 ‘ll be ‘Pride Decade’.

Since the early days of gay activism, the Pride flag has stood as the primary token for anyone celebrating the movement that declares ‘we are separate and different in our sexuality and are not going to stay quiet about it’. The proponents of the movement claim it’s about the freedom to love whomever they want, but let’s be real here – it’s about being fully open in regards to what kind of sex you want to have and with whom.

Stretching from the last quarter of the 20th century and up to the present day, conservative Christians have been angered that the pride movement ‘stole the symbol of the rainbow’ from God or God’s word and that their using it in their parades or as decorations for their front porch was blasphemous and highly disrespectful of the religious community.

But is that really what’s happened? Is the Pride flag even what we think it is?

Here’s a little bit of history:

According to Wikipedia, gay icon Harvey Milk encouraged homosexual activist Gilbert Baker to come up with a symbol of pride for the gay community. His original design was a flag consisting of 8 colors, starting with pink at the top (not a big surprise there!). Apparently, due to fabric unavailability, pink was dropped from the design between 1978 and 79. The flag’s design was left with the 7 colors that corresponded with nature during the formation of a rainbow or when pure light is refracted through a clear glass prism. Those colors are, in case you wondered,

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

But then something interesting happened. By 1979, the Gay Pride Flag (as it was referred to back then – there was no LGBTQIA) was reduced from 7 colors to 6! Indigo and turquoise (turquoise is not a colour natural to rainbows, per se) were dropped in favor of Royal Blue.

Since then, this 6 colour combination has represented the pride movement and has been presumed by most, to represent the rainbow – an atmospheric phenomena and symbol that the God of Judaism gave Noah after the flood. For those rare few of you who don’t know the history – the flood – a world-wide event referenced by many cultures throughout the planet via writings or oral legends – was a real event. The Jewish or Old Testament take on it was that the earth was full of wickedness and had to be purged via a one-off deluge that would wipe out humanity save for one family that would afterward be responsible for repopulating the planet with hopefully less evil than had gone before them. At the end of the flood, and at God’s bidding, the rainbow appeared in the sky to Noah – patriarch of the rescued family – and represented the promise made by God to never fully waterboard humanity again.

Even though this information is out there, there will nonetheless be a lot of religious folk who get bent out of shape whenever they see the pride flag, believing their cherished faith or perceived symbols of their faith (namely the rainbow) are being flouted.

Maybe a different perspective here will help.

ONE: The pride flag doesn’t represent a real rainbow! It isn’t reflective of what occurs normally and naturally in the physical world. It is a banding of 6 – NOT 7! – colours that have absolutely nothing to do with God’s promises or the bible.

TWO: Even if the flag WERE a real rainbow and LGBTQIA folks were deliberately ripping it off from the bible to annoy conservative Christians who don’t acknowledge the pride movement or who don’t wish to give ascent to their sexual proclivities, they shouldn’t be surprised!

Committed Christians are told in Scripture that:

“At the end of time, some will ridicule the faithful and follow their lusts to the grave.” These are the men among you—those who divide friends, those concerned ultimately with this world, those without the Spirit.”
Jude, v.8

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
1 John, chap. 3, v.13

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
2 Timothy, Chap. 3, v.12

Bible-adherent Christians should expect to be called out or persecuted by those who don’t like them because of their stance on the Truth of God’s word and the healthy, holy direction God wants His children – his people – to follow.

If you are a conservative Christian who is annoyed by the pride-Nazis (those in-your-face proponents of the alternative-sexuality lifestyle) and their influence on society or the pride movement parades – grow a backbone!

Throw a heterosexual pride parade, write a blog-post about your beliefs or write your local politician stating that you are not standing with them if they decide to ride the Tranny-float down the main drag in your fine city. There are probably many things you can do but kvetching isn’t really one of them. Nonetheless, if you’re going to speak out against or attempt to hamper the pride movement’s influence through legal, worthwhile means, remember this one thing: GOD HELP YOU if you don’t love with all your heart every single person – gay or straight – that wants to attack you for what you believe and WHO you believe in.

We’re told to BLESS those who persecute us* – ‘Bless and do not curse’. Love and be ready to serve any and every LGBTQIA soul who does not love you and your reward in the next life is great! Don’t forget that.

Lastly – relax when it comes to the rainbow. It’s still yours … all 7 colors. It was never really taken from you. It’s still there echoing God’s promise to not super-soak humanity in a watery death. I think it’s more important that we realize that through Jesus, we all have been offered the waters of life. Waters that if imbibed of deeply and consistently – will alter us from the inside out and ensure His true colors come shining through – in our every word and every action.

© 2016 Flagrant Regard; Used by permission


* Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chap. 12, Verse 14 &
Luke’s Gospel, Chap. 6, Verses 28-36

 

April 14, 2016

A Call to Keep Christian Organizations Christian

I like to make this space available to other voices on a regular basis and today our guest writer is Steve Clarke, program director for Compassion Canada. This is good reading for anyone who is involved in the overseeing of any Christian enterprise.

Compassion Canada

A Call for Faith-Based Organizations to Maintain Biblical Leadership Principles in an Increasingly Secular Society

by Steve Clarke
Program Manager
Compassion Canada
April 2016

Steve ClarkeI have been thinking about the dangers of mission drift lately. I’m not sure why this theme has surfaced. Maybe it is linked to small group discussions. My wife Dorothy and I are hosting sessions on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Over the weeks we have been examining the Fruit, as described in the Book of Galatians:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

In these sessions, I have become more convinced than ever that the expression of those Fruit – those Spirit-led actions that serve others and speak powerfully of the love of Christ – can only be accomplished through the strength of a daily prayer and scripture relationship walk with the Holy Spirit. The same is true for faith-based organizations. As individuals within faith-based organizations, we must cling to that relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit … or our Christian mission can falter.

Another powerful passage comes to mind:

“… make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:5-9)

If we do not exemplify these characteristics in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we risk Peter’s caution of becoming “nearsighted and blind” … unmindful of Christ’s redemption in our lives.

In the 1980s consultants encouraged Compassion International’s leaders to “drop the Jesus emphasis” and to instead focus on our poverty-alleviation programming. Rejecting that advice, we devised a ‘plumb-line’ of twelve biblically-driven aspirational Leadership Principles. These principles are posted prominently on the office walls of Compassion 26 two-thirds world countries of activity, and in our 15 funding partner countries.

Recently our Compassion Canada office leaders decided to re-visit them in a series of meetings with our staff. With the luck-of-the-draw, I was chosen to deliver the first address. I was asked to speak on two of the twelve Leadership Principles: “Demonstrate Godly Character” and “Ignite Passion for Ministry.” Whoa! There would be something wrong if you didn’t feel inadequate in tackling such lofty topics. Even so, I discovered it was a rich blessing to explore these principles verbally in a straight-forward manner. The staff warmed to the themes, and the talk prompted some wonderful after-meeting discussions.

At Compassion we partner with local churches and characterize our mission and calling as “Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” In my nearly 25 years witnessing Compassion’s poverty alleviation work with children, I celebrate creative combinations of income generation, housing, education, primary health care and training/equipping. But these are, at best, sub-sets of the world’s deepest needs. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that ushers-in spiritually transformed lives is the foundation our world craves.

Secular British journalist Matthew Parris agrees, in his breath-taking admission following a trip to Africa:

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”1

Body, mind, soul and spirit: Our human make-up demands that we must hang-tough in being Christ-centered, regardless of increasing secularization around us. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 (ESV)


1 Greer, Peter and Chris Horst. Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches. Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2014, p. 36.

September 18, 2015

War Room’s Message Isn’t Subtle, but Characters and Actors Excel

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, media, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 am

Longtime friend Lorne Anderson describes himself as thinker, writer, student, musicologist, husband, father and Christian. He’s sharing this post with us today which also appears at his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne.

War Room

War Room

Hollywood does not have a monopoly on film making, though the movie moguls there wish they did. I’m sure it galls them when a movie like War Room tops the box office as it did a couple of weekends ago in the United States.

War Room is the latest from the Kendrick Brothers, whose most recent releases were Courageous and Fireproof. The Kendricks are part of a church that a few years ago did more than lament that Hollywood was not interested in making family friendly movies – they did something about it. The church began making its own films for theatrical distribution, with church members learning the tools of the trade, both behind the cameras and in front of them Not only did they learn, they learned well. People go to see the films, which due to volunteer labour are produced on a much smaller budget than a Hollywood film would be. War Room, for example, was made with a budget of about $3 million.

As I understand it, to break even a film has to earn three times its production cost to break even. War Room has then in more than $40 million so far. Hollywood studios are green with envy.

The film comes out in Canada today, and I would strongly encourage those Canadians reading this to go see it – if not this weekend then sometime in the next week. Distributors make decisions on what movies to show based to a large degree on opening weekend numbers.

I saw the film a couple of weeks ago at a special preview screening. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew form the advance materials that the film was about prayer, and I wasn’t all that sure that it would be an entertaining two hours. I was wrong.

I prefer my Christian film-making to be a bit more subtle in its message. A film about prayer seemed to be a little bit of a sledgehammer approach to me. What saved it was that the movie has some genuinely funny moments, especially some lines delivered by two young actresses, Alena Pitts and Kathleen Dellinger. I don’t like child actors, but I’ll make an exception for those two, they are natural comics.

This is definitely a message film, you need to be aware of that going in. It is a simple message: prayer is powerful, as one family finds out, especially when things are tough. The situations are believable, the acting for the most part pretty good (I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between paid actors and volunteers in the film), the photography well done.

It’s not a perfect film, but then again the perfect film doesn’t exist. However, I found it to be a much better film than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the most recent Hollywood offering I have seen. War Room shows real people in real situations. I could relate to it. I could relate to the people in it. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a series of fast-paced clichés – ear and eye candy for a Tuesday night. War Room is much closer to reality. Maybe that’s why Hollywood can’t make movies like this. Reality scares them.

So go see War Room. Then leave a message here to tell me what you thought of it.

August 2, 2015

What if Orange Was a Swear Word?

Filed under: guest writer, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A Guest Post by Lorne Anderson

Being subjected to a fair amount of hip-hop music at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has me thinking about language and its usage.

Hip-hop comes out of urban black culture, the inner-city ghettos of the United States. It is folk music in the true sense of the term (which has been expropriated to usually mean relatively mild singer-songwriters wielding an acoustic guitar). Part of its expression, a rebellion against the predominately Caucasian establishment, is the frequent use of profanity to shock and confront.

Img 080215I maintain that really doesn’t work. There is no longer any shock value in the words; society has changed. The words may still not be acceptable in church, or business, but their power to cause offense has been greatly reduced.

Yet every rapper and hip-hop artist makes liberal use of certain words, probably because it makes them appear controversial and contemporary, at least in the eyes of the average 13-year-old.

The words we find offensive vary from culture to culture. As a society changes (I would have said evolves, but that implies progression) the words deemed offensive can also change.

In my youth swearing had religious connotations. That is no longer the case in our post-Christian society. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is no longer risqué when no-one believes in God. Our “swearing” now deals with excrement and various sexual acts, especially ones still considered taboo. I suspect that fifty years from now the offensive words will be a completely different set than the ones we have today. But there will be something that can’t be said in polite company, we seem to require that vocal relief.

Canada is a bilingual country, so I have been exposed to French-language profanity also. Much of it still seems to be to be religiously based, despite French Canada (Quebec) being perhaps the most secular area of this post-Christian nation.

Maybe profanity hasn’t evolved as quickly there because the church was so dominant in that society for so long. It is so culturally based – unless you are a French Roman Catholic I don’t think exclaiming “chalice of my tabernacle” (a direct translation of one of the most popular curse phrases) really has much effect.

So what if “orange” was a swear word? The entire hip-hop industry would wither and die. Rap is all about the rhyme, and I have heard some very creative rhymes with English (and French) swear words. But there is no word that rhymes with orange.


Lorne Anderson is an Ottawa-based communications consultant working primarily in music and politics. He can usually be found online at randomthoughtsfromlorne.wordpress.com

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

————————————————————-

For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

November 28, 2010

James MacDonald’s “Merry Christmas” Comeback

This was sent out by Walk in the Word to e-mail subscribers this week:

I look forward to having a great time with a new response to ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’ When people say that to me, I will answer, “It’s a boy!”

You should try it out. These three words will help you point to Jesus and lead you into some great conversations with both believers and non-believers.

It’s so easy to forget that Christmas is about the fulfillment of prophecy: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). It’s a boy!

And the miracle of a virgin birth: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). It’s a boy!

And the mission accomplished by this baby: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). It’s a boy!

Why do I like this response so much? It’s God’s answer for the universal problem of sin in the world. It’s what makes it possible for me to look forward to eternal life. It’s what gives me the peace and joy so I can have a Merry Christmas. It’s a boy!

So try this response. It’s just one way to stay focused on the real meaning of Christmas.

~James MacDonald

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.