Thinking Out Loud

October 20, 2016

When the Saved Need Saving

Earlier this summer I was given an advance copy of Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts. First of all, the bright cover (i.e. The End of Me by Kyle Idleman or The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister) set it apart from other review books in the stack, but more importantly, I recognized the author’s last name; he is the son of Crawford Lorritts who I believe was connected to some national rallies James MacDonald (Walk in the Word) hosted.

saving-the-savedThe subtitle of Saving the Saved is long, but sums up the book well: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love. I am continually amazed at the number of Christians — even among Evangelicals — who believe their ticket into heaven is something they’ve done. (We’ve written about that here.)

So the author puts a Christian spin on the often government-related noun meritocracy, and certainly the church is complicit in this, giving a higher place or value to certain people “chosen not because of birth or wealth, but for their superior talents or intellect.” (See the 2nd definition here.)

Because I read the book earlier, but wanted to post the review closer to the release date (it’s now available) I relied on a some other reviewers to refresh my memory. One noted some key themes:

1.  Jesus did not try to prove Himself and gain acceptance from others.
2.  How we view eternity affects how we live in the present.
3.  The futility of works-based acceptance.
4.  Moving from performing for approval to abiding in Christ.
5.  Letting peace have the priority over worry.

While another reader broke the book into three sections:

After introducing with a call to arms against a supposed meritocracy of works-based morality, the first part of the book looks at what goodness isn’t–reflecting on soul songs and the longing for the good life, pointing out the universal need for grace, reminding the reader that man-made goodness doesn’t cut it, criticizing the human tendency for pride, and looking at the transformation that results from independence as we reflect on our higher and lower natures, in five chapters.  The second part of the book looks at authentic goodness by changing the focus from performing to abiding, reminding us that our failure is never final, and pointing our attention to the resurrection and its implications for us in three chapters. The third and final part of the book looks at how we practice performance-free love in our own lives by setting a difficult and painful example of forgiveness towards others, practice generosity, practice peace over worry, practice graciousness in marriage, and see genuine love as being a way of being saved from ourselves and our own bent towards inhumanity towards others in the book’s last five chapters, before a thoughtful acknowledgments section that provides some context on where the author was when he was writing this book.

I spent my Labor Day reading Saving the Saved; I rarely binge read like this, but like the cliché says, I couldn’t put it down. While the core subject is countering the belief in performance-based faith, I think many of the reviewers missed the underlying scrpiture text, the book also serves as an insightful commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

It also occurred to me that this title falls into a select category of books which would be a great first Christian living book for someone to read, though it is also applicable to the rest of us who’ve been on this journey awhile. A good mix of personal stories and material from other sources. 

Finally, while perhaps this is more reflective of the fact I’m based in Canada, I could not help but not how few books I get to read from the black community. Their voice is often heard in other media, but not so much in print, and the black pastors and televangelists most people see are usually decidedly Charismatic; which does not describe Bryan.  Therefore, where the book gets autobiographical, it reflects a unique perspective.

A copy of Saving the Saved was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada.

April 30, 2016

The books that didn’t make it into The Book

Occasionally, I get asked about non-canonical literature; the books which for one reason or another are not included among the core canon — either Protestant or Orthodox or Roman Catholic — available in modern Bibles.

My first piece of advice on this is really basic: Don’t get interested in any of these unless you know for sure that you’ve read each and every book in the Bible you already own. There is a tendency among some Christians to want to grab the remote control and see what else is on. As an Evangelical, my Bible contains 39 books in the first testament and 27 in the second. I believe that’s a minimum prerequisite for going off-road to look at things like The Gospel of Thomas or others of that genre.

Once we’ve got that out of the way, I confess that I’ve often struggled with reading the non-canonical books. Either the form is unusual, or the content is bizarre, the available text is fragmented, or there’s just something about the tenor of the book that suggests it’s out of place. But I say that knowing that believers in past centuries felt the same way about Esther or Revelation or James or the R-rated Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs, aka Canticles).

The Bible's Cutting Room FloorEnter Jewish researcher Joel M. Hoffman, writer of The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor (2014, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).  What I appreciated here was instead of reprinting and analyzing the texts, the author tells me about the various narratives in his own words. While purists may question the attraction of this second-party account, to me, it fits the bill perfectly.

Not that the texts themselves are not problematic to one raised in Evangelical Christianity:

  • Abraham’s dad was an idol-maker
  • The snake in the Garden of Eden had a crush on Eve and wanted to marry her
  • Cain was the world’s first materialist
  • The Tower of Babel was built for height, not fame; it’s a post-Flood account, after all.

There are other stories as well, some more fanciful than what I’ve listed here.

There’s also background on confirming documents.

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls may be been discovered, but it’s more of an ongoing story to this very day
  • The Septuagint is fraught with unusual word choices sometimes hinging on a single vowel or letter fragment, or a combination of word meanings that create a completely different reading of a particular phrase
  • Josephus was great when he painted in broad strokes, but sometimes a bit off on details; and to call him an opportunist is a bit of an understatement.

A week later, recalling the book from memory, these are just a few things that come to mind.

I found the writing a bit uneven, though a friend who bought the book praised the author’s writing style. Another person who borrowed my copy for several chapters objected to the author presenting something very academic on one page, and then being too casual and informal on the next. In fairness, there was much disparate material covered here.

The book did whet my appetite for reconsidering collections such as The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden (a title I’ve held in my hands on a few occasions, but didn’t get more than a dozen pages in) but I’d be more likely to return to this one than to attempt to navigate through the original writings (the opposite choice of many, I realize).

Hoffman has other books, such as And God Said, but this title is the one most easy to access or afford to purchase.

…Just because it’s on the cutting room floor doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; but what we can be confident in as that God has given us in the core canon the books He wanted us to have.


March 14, 2016


Filed under: Christianity, culture, parenting, Religion — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:41 am

*Because of the large amount of traffic this blogs gets from search engines, I did not want to add to the frenzy described below. I’ve deliberately left this article completely without tags and without a title, which means perhaps only subscribers will initially see it; but we’ll also link to it on Wednesday and on Twitter.

img 031416

This article started out as part of my weekly scan of blogs and news sites looking for material for the Wednesday Link List, a process which usually starts late on Sunday afternoon and continues right up to Tuesday evening. In the process this week I discovered that much has been written lately about the suicides of gay Mormon teens, youth who are part of the LDS Church who are also LGBT, or perhaps LBGT-friendly.

I started to type the link item:

  • Trend-Spotting: Suicides among LGBT Mormon teens under-reported?

Preston Sprinklewith the link, and then realized I had a much bigger subject to wrestle with. Coincidentally, last week I picked up a title in a recent review book box, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality which I have to assume is the youth edition of People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue released the same week in December by the same author, Preston Sprinkle, and the same publisher, Zondervan.

I’ve been reading the chapters a little out of order, though I did listen to the interview Preston did on the sometimes irreverent Drew Marshall Show (scroll down to February 13) which discussed the adult version.

I realize that for everyone this is the biggest social issue facing the church right now. It’s to the present generation of Christians what divorce was in the 1960s and ’70s. And for a variety of reasons, it impacts tweens, teens and twenty-somethings in a major way, though many of those reasons have either a direct or indirect connection to the social changes that have been brought about because of the internet.

Recognizing that much has already been written on this elsewhere, I want to return to the present item, the impact on Mormon teens. Here are just a few stories from January and February and some opening paragraphs.

The first is a general news story that has been reproduced in various forms in various media over the past two months:

Unraveling the Truth Behind Gay Mormon Youth and Suicide

While there are conflicting reports regarding numerous suicides involving LGBT Mormon youth, there’s no question that there’s been an increase of suicidal teens and twenty-somethings following the Church’s new antigay policy.

Instituted in November, the new rules label any Mormon in a same-sex marriage as an “apostate,” which could include excommunication from the church, and bars children of all same-sex couples from being baptized. Reaction to the new rules was swift, with thousands severing ties from the Church of Latter-Day Saints in response.

Three months on, the mental effect on Mormon youth is becoming clearer. “Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported recently. “Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.” …

[…The substance of this article also appears here and here.]

The second piece introduces the official change that took place in the church that has triggered the present situation.

How the Mormon Church can (and will) overturn its new policy and embrace LGBTIs

[Note: This article is from a gay website]

I’m not your typical gay man – but I’m also not your typical Mormon.

From 2011 to 2013, I served as executive secretary in the bishopric of my home congregation in San Francisco as my authentic self – an openly gay man.

A major emphasis of what I’ve worked to accomplish over the past several years is mending the fences between the LGBTI community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the wake of the Church’s misguided and damaging involvement in California’s Proposition 8.

And progress was indeed being made…

…But that took an abrupt turn in November of last year, when the church announced a new policy making apostates (people who renounced or abandoned their belief) of any LGBTI individual married to someone of the same gender.

…If that wasn’t bad enough, in January this year, a talk given by Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and next in line to be prophet and president of the entire church, pronounced the administrative policy a revelation from God, elevating it to near doctrinal status…

The third item indicates the problem is very widespread and goes beyond the number of kids who resort to suicide.

“Safe and Sound” seeks to get LGBT teens off the streets

A disproportionately high number of homeless youth trying to survive on the streets in Utah identify as something other than “straight.”

Homeless youth counselors say a large number of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens also come from Mormon homes — kicked out because they are gay.

“It’s awful. The stories we hear are just terrible,” said Marian Edmonds, the director of Ogden OUTreach, an LGBT community center in northern Utah.

At a panel discussion Tuesday night, Edmonds and others who work with these children spoke out about the problem — noting that as many as 40% of the estimated 1,000 homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT…

I do not for a minute believe that the problem is limited to the LDS Church. I think it is a microcosm of what’s taking place when we extended the broadest definition of Christian, but that the recent Mormon pronouncement simply caused rapid acceleration of a trend that was already there.

img 031416aFor the rest of us, the issue is fraught with complexity. We don’t want to drive kids away from the church or from Jesus. Condemnation does that. On the other hand, we want them to see God’s ideal for family life. I often discuss this people in terms of

  • good
  • better
  • best

It avoids the use of “wrong” and is in fact closer to the Biblical definition of “missing the mark” (sin) which I touched on briefly in this article.

But we also don’t want to see parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family go through the pain and loss caused by suicide; or live with the knowledge that their son or daughter’s perceptions of the Christian message drove them to that act.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a “Mormon problem” when in fact I believe we haven’t yet seen the full impact of today’s Junior Highs and Middle School children who daily face social realities that are 180-degrees opposite to traditional Christian teaching.

I don’t — and I hope you don’t — believe for a minute that the intention of Jesus is that the standards set in Leviticus or in the Sermon on the Mount or in Paul’s writings were ever intended to drive children to live on the streets or even end their lives.

Compassion, not condemnation is what is needed at this stage.

title slide: Patheos



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?



May 14, 2015

Christianity Fares Poorly in Recent Polls, Surveys

Religion in AmericaNumerically, Christianity is in decline in North America. If the U.S. wants to see its religious future it needs only to look to Canada, which although it has its unique characteristics (different mix of ethnicities, historically stronger Roman Catholic population) is very much a “20 minutes into the future” window on what the U.S. is facing. And in some respects the UK provides Canada with a similar preview of increases in secularism.

We wrote about the implications for the church a few months ago in a review of the new book, The Church in Exile.

Dr. Russell D. Moore heads the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is always very clear and forthright in framing the Evangelical position on issues for wider culture to comprehend. In an article titled “Is Christianity Dying” he writes:

  • Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall
  • Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end… is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
  • The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction.
  • Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.
  • We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America.

To read the entire article — recommended — click this link.

Meanwhile, USA tapped another Baptist writer, Ed Stetzer for an article titled “Survey Fail: Christianity Isn’t Dying.” The articles subtitle confirms what Moore is saying, “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  •  Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified. Churches aren’t emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement.
  • If evangelical Christianity is growing, or at the very least remaining steady, why is Christianity as a whole shrinking and why are those who claim no religious affiliation increasing at such a rapid rate? In short, nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming nones — people who check “none of the above” box on a survey.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Of course, discussions like this tend to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. So we have, at Billboard of all places, this article: “Bill O’Reilly Blames Hip-Hop for Decline in U.S. Christianity.” Here’s a snippet:

  • Obviously, these statistics were gonna get an entrenched conservative like Bill O’Reilly upset. And when Bill sees a problem, Bill needs a scapegoat — and when you’re a conservative talking head, what better scapegoat is there than black people? … “There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment,” O’Reilly said. “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior. That sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.”

What’s deplorable about this is that O’Reilly is missing the point entirely as to what Christianity is and sees it as moralism instead belief in the deity and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

If you feel you must, you read the story at this link.

Yesterday, we also linked to a story at Huffington Post, “The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods” which you’ll find at this link.

Finally, CBC television in Canada jumped into the discussion last night, but as their charter mandates, were forced to look at all religions.  I’m not sure if their content is available in the U.S. but you can try to view the 12-minute piece at this link. (There was also coverage this week at ABC World News.)

with additional research from Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table blog and Flagrant Regard







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!


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

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 30, 2015

Getting the Gospel Right

Christianity in a single sentence

Four years ago I ran a piece here that began with Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books, who asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence. (Does he still use a Rolodex?) At the time, I was reading all Christian bloggers somewhat equally, but today with the dominance of Calvinist/Reformed voices at Crossway, I probably would have tempered my introduction with a warning that many of the responses probably emanate from people in the same doctrinal stream.

To be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence. But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs were repeating over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery. Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel? I said at the time that my answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?  Maybe today I would add, ‘and God’s workings to repair that relationship where it has been broken.’ But already I’m making it longer where I think such a statement needs to be concise.

But why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life. (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute? (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; click over to the original article at Strawberry Rhubarb

Looking back four years later… In an environment where so many churches spend so much time and energy trying to draft mission statements and tag lines to put under the church logo, it’s interesting that our perspectives vary enough that we don’t emerge with something more common to all.  However, we do have a common symbol, the cross

Maybe we should start there and work backwards to a core statement.

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.


…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 1, 2014

Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?

Instead of including occasional devotional or teaching articles, as I once did when this blog started, I started Christianity 201 to force myself to either write or find something every day that involves Bible study or devotional material. A couple of days ago, I used the occasion of my birthday to discuss an issue which has come up a few times in the last few months.  Since we’re still busy sheep-sitting — we don’t actually watch the flock by night, though — I thought I’d include this here…

Over the last twelve months I have had discussions with two people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. There are some Christian groups that teach this, and membership in their group is dependent on agreeing to cease celebration of wedding anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

  • Paul sees the keeping of special days — and it’s the Old Covenant feast days he has partly in view — as going back or reverting to a series of rituals they had been freed from.
  • The Galatians were doing this to try to please God. They were adding to what Christ’s death and resurrection had made no longer necessary. They were wanting the structure of religion with it’s dos and don’ts.
  • Others of Paul’s converts may have come from pagan religions which each had their own feast days. Old habits die hard. Imagine if you had a family tradition that had been practiced for generations that was suddenly stripped away. These pagan feasts day were incompatible with Christian faith and could not be retained in a Christ-following life.

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday, I trust that my family had these aims:

  • I’m not being venerated. Their purpose isn’t sacred. Their actions are not sacramental. Some people argue that we can’t separate life into the sacred and the secular, but some things we do are merely perfunctory, like getting dressed, brushing our teeth, checking the mail, etc. A birthday serves no spiritual purpose.
  • Recognizing and celebrating the encouragement that someone’s life brings you is scriptural. Over and over we are told to encourage one another, to build one another up. A sincere expression of thanks and appreciation — personal, not what the greeting card writer came up with — should really be an everyday occurrence, not a yearly thing; but we we do need prompting to do this.
  • We are reminded of the passing of time. Our lives are “but a breath;” we are “here today and gone tomorrow.” We live sometimes in the “myth of continuity;” believing that things will always be as they are, but in fact, age will eventually catch up with us, it will happen quickly or when we are not looking. It’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. That may seem to make a birthday bittersweet, but as you get older, it really is.
  • It’s not wrong to buy people things. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God gave us. Going to a dollar store to buy something that will be broken a week later is not wise stewardship. (Perhaps the earth’s resources should never have been used to manufacture the item in the first place.) But there are things people both need and desire, and having an excuse at least provides a context to nudge someone to acquire something that might be beneficial to their hobbies and interests, but that they might hesitate to purchase for themselves.
  • Children need to identify and celebrate friendships. If you can do a birthday party without excluding anyone, and at the same time not incurring great expense, it’s nice for kids to gather their friends around them. You can also do a party where instead of gifts, people make a contribution to a charity of the child’s choice. (Try Compassion International, Partners International, Christian Blind Mission, etc.)

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

Older Posts »

Blog at