Thinking Out Loud

March 13, 2015

They Shall Beat Their Swords into Ploughshares

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am

In Pennsylvania.

One week today.

Somewhat literally.

Sword into Ploughshares

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March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


 

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!

 

March 5, 2015

Bicycles, Mental Health, and Life at Our House

The secret algorithm of repeated articles on this blog is that every new month I give myself permission to re-post items that appeared in the same month. Usually I go back several years, but if I feel something was important it might get reused as soon as 12 months later. This particular article represented some major stuff we were dealing with at this time a year ago… Today I’m happy to report that for the most part, things resolved and we’ve moved on.


More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”

=O=O=

Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral, psychological issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.

=O=O=

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens

=O=O=

There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

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.

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