Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2015

“We Walked Away”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:55 am

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he didn’t die for you

Back in the 1970s, the gospel singer simply known as Evie popularized the song “Say ‘I Do'” which contains the lyrics quoted above. Later on, because of concerns with limited atonement, an alternative version sprang up:

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he died in vain for you

Earlier on the weekend we ran into someone who we knew from a church we attended many, many years ago. She and her husband were very, very involved. After some very brief catching up, I asked her where things were at with her and her husband and God. I think in the back of my mind I knew the answer, having heard something a long time ago from someone else, but still, there’s nothing quite like hearing someone look you in the eye and say, “I would describe myself as a humanist, but I have a personal spirituality.  [Her husband] would describe himself as an atheist.  Our marriage was crumbling, and we were both afraid that our doubts would ruin our marriage, and then we talked about it and discovered we had the same doubts…” Later she added the words, “We walked away…”

Usually in my line of work, I run into people who are far from God, but possibly moving toward the cross. I also run into secularists who never had a faith to begin with, but might be open to a discussion. But not so much people who were there — so there — and left.

I don’t want to break out into a theological discussion today on the eternal security of the believer, or the perseverance of the saints, or whether or not someone was actually on the inside to begin with, but these verses in Hebrews 6 crossed my mind,

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened–those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come–and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.   (4-6, NLT)

My thoughts also turned to a section at the opening of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith where he flies to Toronto to interview Charles Templeton. The Christian Courier does a better job of telling this:

In doing research for his latest book, The Case For Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), Strobel sought out and was granted an interview with Templeton in his penthouse apartment on the 25th floor of a high rise in Toronto, Canada.

During the course of their conversation, Charles Templeton had again vigorously defended his disavowal of God and his rejection of the Bible. There was no apparent chink in the armor of his callused soul. Then, Strobel directed the old gentleman’s attention to Christ. How would he now assess Jesus at this stage of his life?

Strobel says that, amazingly, Templeton’s “body language softened.” His voice took on a “melancholy and reflective tone.” And then, incredibly, he said:

“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my reading. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world.”

Mind you, he’s talking about the same Teacher who claimed to have existed eternally before Abraham was born (Jn. 8:58), who asserted his oneness of nature with God, the Father (Jn. 10:30), and who allowed men to honor him as “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28). Which — if these things were not true — makes Jesus of Nazareth the most preposterous and outrageous “con-man” who ever walked the earth. Thousands happily went to their deaths, in the most horrible ways imaginable, confessing his deity.

But the interview continued.

Strobel quietly commented: “You sound like you really care about him.”

“Well, yes,” Templeton acknowledged, “he’s the most important thing in my life.” He stammered: “I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.”

Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, “I . . . miss . . . him!” With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly.

Finally, Templeton gained control of his emotions and wiped away the tears. “Enough of that,” he said, as he waved his hand, as if to suggest that there would be no more questions along that line.

I miss him.

I wonder if my friend and her husband miss him. I just don’t usually get to see this so up close and personal. So final.

But I hope not final.

God, please cause them to reconsider…

February 8, 2015

At Your Name

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

Phil 2:9 (NIV) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

In the early days of this blog, a majority of readers did not have high-speed internet, and we never embedded videos.  But, over the years at C201 we’ve built up a collection of worship songs that I believe are rich lyrically, but we’ve only shared a limited number here. (Scroll down C201’s right margin for song titles.) I want to move a few more over here where they will be seen by different readers. But today, we’ll start with one that is new, At Your Name by Phil Wickham.

Of course, we can’t talk about music which reflects on God’s very name without including this song by Krissy Nordhoff, Your Great Name.

And since some people think things come in threes, here is the song Your Name by one of my favorite worship writers, Paul Baloche.

February 3, 2015

Introducing I Am They

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

This video was posted back in September, but this band has been generating a lot of interest lately, probably because the album is releasing now.  Enjoy From The Day from the band I Am They.

From the day You saved my soul
‘Til the very moment when I come home
I’ll sing, I’ll dance, my heart will overflow
From the day You saved my soul

January 29, 2015

When Unbelievers Get It

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

I Cor 14 is a passage that deals with spiritual gifts that may be interpreted differently by people depending on their take on the reality of those gifts in the 21st century. So I don’t want to focus specifically on the idea prophecy or prophesying as much as I want to focus on the latter part of verse 25:

24 But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. 25 As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” (NLT)

What a great moment that would be! Imagine someone coming into one of our meetings who is not a believer, but they observe “God is truly here among you.”

I like how The Message handles this:

But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you. (vs 24-25, Message)

There’s a great Old Testament parallel passage to this:

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zechariah 8:23 NLT)

What a picture that paints!

We had a pastor once whose nearly ten year ministry of us truly came to a dramatic climax with his final sermon. His last sentence of that message went something like this, “I don’t want people to leave here saying, ‘They have a great church;’ but rather, they should say, ‘They have a great God.'”

What a great thing to hear!


About the Blogroll:

This blog has a rather interesting link list in the sidebar. Blogs mentioned are chosen because they are (a) faith focused and (b) posting regularly. The doctrinal flavor of the blogs listed is quite varied, but I don’t include blogs that appear to have more “agenda” than content. Some blogs are listed somewhat permanently, some disappear and return a month later. Together, they represent almost one twentieth or about 5% of the bloggers that I have bookmarked in my computer and read regularly. Some of the blogs appearing in the Wednesday link list end up on this page later on, while others have a key post that I feel is worth mentioning, while at the same time I’m not sure I want to establish them as a link or imply endorsement. Recommendations are invited.

January 27, 2015

Dr. David Jeremiah: King of Mailing List Abuse

David Jeremiah Turning Point“Please, make it stop; make it go away…”

I have no doctrinal issues with David Jeremiah. Although his radio and television programs are not broadcast at times I can listen or watch, as far as I know he is very mainstream Evangelical.

His fundraising mailings however are relentless.

If you are the type of person who really enjoys getting snail mail, this is the mailing list for you. As a family member told me last week, “I got another one from D.J.;” she has now stopped using the name since understanding is implicit, “That’s three this week.” She doesn’t have my knowledge of printing processes, paper stocks, bleeds, color separations, etc., but notes, “They’re all on glitzy paper.” Well, the letters are on standard bond, but yes, the enclosures are all on glossy stock, and color envelopes unique to each mailing.

Lots of trees gave their lives.

The latest pitch is for the Turning Point Bible Strong Partners program. For $25 per month you can choose from a couple of gifts or curiously, this option: “Please apply my entire gift to the needs of the ministry.” Those needs however would include printing and mailing more appeal letters.

This is a beast that requires constant feeding.

We’re not even going to get into the whole ResultsSource thing here. This is one of the big Christian publishing stories of 2014, where authors including Mark Driscoll — and David Jeremiah is also listed in reports — paid the consulting organization to ensure placement of their books on the New York Times Bestseller List.source

Turning Point’s 2012 Form 990 shows it as having nearly $40 million income that year.source There is a principle in business that once something reaches a critical mass it is capable of perpetuating itself on its reputation; other factors have to start working against it in order for it to start to experience decline (market changes, competition, economy, etc.). But with charities you have to keep asking, keep begging. You have to keep your name in front of the public. Each mail appeal produces a bump in donations.

For David Jeremiah, there seems to be no law of diminishing returns. The appeal letters keep coming.

In 2012 the ministry paid nearly $700K to In Service America which operates call centers. $400K to Majestic Productions which provides equipment for large arena-type events. Officers, directors and trustees received just under $900K while general salary and wage expenses were approx. $4.6M.  (Jeremiah is also pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, an SBC church in California founded by Tim LaHaye.)

It’s a big ship, and it takes money to make money.

I wonder what God thinks of all this?

I don’t begrudge these people some fundraising or donor development costs. They believe in what they’re doing. While individually they would acknowledge the existence of similar ministries, corporately they are no doubt passionate about what they do. Just as Christians we believe we’ve got the hottest news on the rack, many organizations feel they’ve got a great distribution system for that news.

What you end up with is a group of creative people being paid to develop fundraising appeals because the ministry needs money in order to pay people to develop more fundraising appeals.

But when people are getting three mailings in a single week… That’s not right is it? It seems driven by an ambition that’s gone into overdrive, and historically, when that happens, often the organization experiences collapse.

The time to rethink all of this is now. It’s time to develop long-term sustainability that doesn’t involve the rape of so many trees, the theft of so much carbon. Otherwise, their ambition could lead them, like so many others, to find it impossible to sustain the minimum income they now require.

And that could be their turning point.


For an alternative view about fundraising costs, check out this 2013 TEDTalk.

January 25, 2015

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwis

Anyone who keeps up with developments in world missions has heard stories of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ after a revelation in a dream. I can’t take the time here to document this, but there have been many articles and at least one DVD documentary, More Than Dreams.

These stories are rather personal to me, because as a 7-year old, my initial stirrings of faith began after waking from a dream that clearly spoke to me that in terms of the lessons presented in Sunday School, a Christian retreat center we visited each year, and other contacts with scripture, I was not prepared.

So yes, the dream confirmed and was in line with scripture, but it was clearly after the dream that I reached out to God, not in the classroom settings.

Which is why I get frustrated with people who would say God does not speak today through extra-Biblical revelation. It’s why I cry a little each time I read a blog article where someone says salvation can only occur directly through the Bible. It’s entirely untrue in my case or in the case of the people I referenced in the Middle East.

Who are we to say how God works, and what he works through? Who are we to discount someone else’s experience? There are people today — and you will encounter them online if you haven’t already — who thrive on putting God in a box. They want to broker God to you, but it’s always their version of God.

I would be very afraid to put limits on God, or how God operates, or what God is doing in the world. I would be very scared to think that my North American picture of God as taught in my little suburban church is the sum and substance of all God is. I would be very frightened to think that only the teaching found in certain books is valid and that each and every other published volume is heretical.

If it doesn’t fit your doctrinal or theological framework, is it possible that you are the one who is wrong? Because God isn’t. He knows exactly what he is doing. It’s a wild frontier out there and he’s got some cowboys who need to be reined in at times, but he’s using a lot of people to accomplish his purposes and bring him glory.

January 23, 2015

Seeing a Counselor No Longer Considered a Sign of Weakness

Therapy for Healthy People

I never quote here from the NIrV, the simplified (children’s) version of the NIV, but somehow it seemed appropriate:

  1. Matthew 9:12
    Jesus heard that. So he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.
  2. Mark 2:17
    Jesus heard that. So he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to follow me.”
  3. Luke 5:31
    Jesus answered them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.

I grew up in a culture where only people who had mental or emotional problems sought professional counseling. Anyone in my elementary or high school who admitted to having an appointment with a psychologist would be treated like a leper, and as I got older, there was a certain stigma that remained attached to having a need for a mental health professional.

Recently, however, I’ve been listening to sermons and podcasts and reading books by respected Christian authors who freely admit regular — usually weekly — visits with their counselor, including pastors of some of the very largest American churches.

The stigma of the past just isn’t there now.

I’m not sure if this has more to do with the level of detachment we feel in modern society and therefore simply need someone to talk to, or if it has more to do with the possibility we’re more messed up than previous generations.  Or perhaps because we now speak in terms of having a life coach the process is just a little bit less mysterious.

Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde looked into this two years ago at Q blog. Rather than take the easy way out and advocate for therapy as a preventative strategy, they suggested that we’re all messed up one way or another.

Good therapy is challenging and costly, because it exposes both the depths of your woundedness and the extent of your sinful self-sabotage…

When we go to therapy, we admit—at some level—that we don’t have life figured out, that blind spots erode our sense of vision for ourselves and others, that our motives are mixed. To say, “I’m in therapy” takes courage, because we’re admitting we don’t have it all together. And that is a rare admission these days…

We may spend years avoiding our pain, avoiding our stories, avoiding our subtle forms of self-sabotage and relational sabotage. But when they catch up to us, therapy is one way God uses to awaken us…

In a subsequent article — now offline — LaLonde returned to the blog with some practical steps for people to take in selecting a counselor. He admitted that some offer quick fixes, while with others, it takes a few weeks to feel comfortable sharing your inner self with that person.

But probably the best thing articles like this accomplish is to remove the longstanding association between counseling therapy and more severe mental illness.

So then what do we do with our opening? Is it only the sick that need a doctor? Well, either Jesus was wrong, or perhaps we’re all just a little more messed up than we think. After all, in the context of the statement — repeated in all three synoptic gospels — Jesus is Himself the doctor and for all the various types of emotional, social, mental and spiritual wholeness we need; more than anything else, we needed a Savior.

January 15, 2015

It Will All Come out in the Wash

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:16 am

Our Celebrity Christian photo series continues…

Bob Goff - Lysa Terkeurst

Caption: Bob Goff: Getting a little help from my friend Lysa TerKeurst after I ran my talk through the wash by mistake.

January 11, 2015

On The Sunday Lunch Menu: Roast Preacher

roast-preacherOne of our pastor experiences was really strange. One never knew truly what the guy was thinking, which means the drive home from the morning service was always filled with differing opinions as we tried to dissect the various points. One time, he placed a coffee maker on the podium suggesting, “God is the water;” and concluding with, “We are the beans.” This got us singing the chorus from “We Are The World” all the way home, substituting “beans” for “world.”

On the other hand, we attended another church where the pastor clearly had a double portion of the gift of preaching. However, never once did we discuss anything he said in the car heading home. He had said it all. Perfectly. With nothing to add.

In hindsight, I’m not sure which is to be preferred. I actually like discussing the sermon in the car on the way home, especially when there is a point of doctrine that was controversial, or the use of an analogy — such as the coffee maker one — that is a bit rough around the edges. I often think what I might have done with the same passage, or how a particular point might have made more clearly. I am not ashamed of this at all, in fact I wish I had kept a journal or notebook solely for the purpose of recording when particular sermons might have served as a springboard to another idea based on the same text.

On the other hand though, on many of those drives home, there were a couple of sets of little ears in the back seat. Little ears don’t understand the difference between a critique and a criticism. The difference between unhelpful criticism and constructive criticism. The difference between not liking what someone said versus not liking them as a person. So one has to be careful.

The problem arises when adults are equally lacking in understanding the distinction. If you are a pastor, know that I can violently disagree with something you said, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like you and it doesn’t mean I won’t love everything you say the following week. Unfortunately, people tend to take things far too personally. (It was once said of me, in reference to a particular pastor, “He can’t stand that guy.” Seriously. That was their takeaway. Simply wasn’t true.)

Furthermore, I know some pastors who would be thrilled to think that people were discussing their sermons in the car on the way home, or over dinner. Better that than forgetting them the minute they leave the building. Better heated engagement of the topic or text than apathy.

But maybe not so much in the actual church building, in earshot of others. Jon Acuff makes that quite clear in a 2009 Stuff Christians Like post. In keeping with the spirit of “Roast Preacher,” I wouldn’t necessarily give this particular post a “10” or even a “9,” but the set up was positively brilliant:

Two weeks ago at church, on my way to pick up my kids after service, the guy behind me said, “It was entertaining I guess, but that didn’t feel like church at all.”

I immediately turned around and was about to hit him with my copy of the English Standard Version of the Bible, which I’ve been told leaves bruises that are 14% closer to the original intent of the Hebrew, but he threw up the gang sign for “First Time Visitor.” I backed off instantly. If there’s one group of people you can’t strike with a Bible at church, it is first time visitors. Pastors really frown on that.

So instead, I just glared at him with a look that said, “You enjoy that first time visitor status, because next week, it’s gone. Soon you’ll just be a second time visitor and there’s not a gift basket that comes with that.” Then I backed away slowly, keeping my eyes on him.

It didn’t happen exactly that way, but I did hear someone complaining and it made me sad. …

 

January 9, 2015

Bible Overview Offers Interesting Premise

Regular readers here know that I choose the books I review, which means that I have an obvious bias before scanning the first page. Often, I am already familiar with the authors from their online work. Generally, you get the impression that I never met a book I didn’t like.

God's Story in 66 VersesBut this one was a bit frustrating. Stan Guthrie’s God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understanding the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book looked like it was going to be an interesting focus on some key passages, but I have to admit, I was taking the title (and subtitle) of the book very, very literally, so that once I got into the first few chapters, I felt I wasn’t getting what the book promised.

Yes, there are 66 chapters, running three to four pages each; and yes, each begins with a key verse from each book in the Protestant canon. But in providing context for these verses, many others are invoked and instead of commentary on the key verse, or why it means so much to the author, we are simply given a retelling of the story.

Of course that’s very important. Bible handbooks provide great overviews for people looking for a companion reference product. Honestly, I think everyone should have one lying around the house somewhere. (Haley’s Bible Handbook is a longtime bestseller; younger readers might enjoy Zondervan’s The Map.) This is especially helpful if your Bible is a basic text edition without chapter introductions, or you have a friend who is just starting out on their spiritual journey and say they already have a Bible, but you want to give them something to help them get started.

But one thing God’s Story… is not is a product presenting the Bible story arc as one, single unified story, despite the similarity of the title to another product line by the very same publisher. Rather, each chapter is discussed somewhat in isolation of the others, which on the plus side, means you can indeed use the book for reference, or read the chapters in any order. Perhaps that stands as a healthy contrast to the former type of product which seem to be proliferating rather quickly.

Of course, if your favorite verses match the ones contained here, then this is a great product for people who might be called upon to give a very short devotional talk on a verse that has been of great benefit to them over the years. Or if there’s one of the minor prophets you tend to skim over, this will draw you into the text and help you understand that book’s significance. (Reading lengths are somewhat equal: Nahum is given more space than Hebrews.)

Bottom line for me however was that the book offers a premise that it doesn’t deliver. It’s a great handbook, and bringing in the context provides a great set-up for the key verse that is inevitably reiterated in the reading, but the title left me expecting something more devotional.  Hey, maybe it’s just me.

So here’s my conclusion: 18-24 months from now Thomas Nelson will reissue this product under a different name. Getting to Know Every Book in The Book is my suggestion. And it will do even better under the second title, whatever is chosen.

Available now from Thomas Nelson, 240 pages, in paperback at $16.99 US

 

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