Thinking Out Loud

November 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

We couldn’t think of a better image today than this one, issued yesterday by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on the occasion of Rev. Graham’s 99th birthday. Click the image to read their article.

Unlike other similar round-up lists or link lists, we try to vary the source of material here considerably each week. However, there are some websites and blogs which consistently turn out superior material and break new stories. We chose not to keep coming back to the same sources weekly only because I believe the cream rises to the top, and you’re already being made aware of those articles and news stories on social media and through subscriptions.

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November 7, 2017

The Downside of Sermon Podcasts

My name is Paul, and I’m a sermon podcastaholic.* On Sundays I’ve been known to listen to as many as five of them, though that doesn’t happen often. But three is not unusual.

Read Schuchardt, a professor of media ecology at Wheaton College was a recent guest on The Phil Vischer Podcast. He has ten kids, no TV, no cell phone, and no internet. After discussing technology and culture, at the very end of the discussion, Skye Jethani asked Read about the implications for the church with respect to the things they had talked about…

Skye Jethani: The basic economy of why people go to church, or why people have gone to church for five centuries, has changed. Most pastors I talk to about this don’t want to change that model. But they’re angry or upset or frustrated that a generation is now around that doesn’t show up on Sunday.

Read Schuchardt: Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with various pastors. One of the things I say is, “Look if value really is a function of scarcity, why are you giving away your weekly sermons for free on the internet which is just an invitation to not come?” Why not just say, “It’s live, it’s here, it’s one day of the week only. You’ve got to be there to get it.”

Skye: It’s the same reason your students won’t read a book.

Read: In other words, if you’ll camp out all night to get those tickets to see that concert of that one singer live…

Skye: Don’t you think that it’s because most pastors know they’re not that good?

Read: No, I think it’s because they are sincerely trying to help further and spread their message and also reach their elderly and shut-ins out of Christian love and concern. But they don’t realize that it’s also simultaneously under cutting the over-all “Why would I go there?”

Skye: Yeah, but when I talk to a young person, they might admire their pastor, think they’re great, whatever. But they also realize, “Well, I’m going to listen to these other five celebrity pastors because they’re so entertaining.” And the average pastor, as faithful and good and doctrinally sound as they may be are not as entertaining. So they’re competing in this media environment in which they can’t really compete.

Read: Yeah, but as soon as you say ‘entertainment’, that’s not a focus on Scripture. That’s a focus on television.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that. The words, “If value is really is a function of scarcity…” leave me asking if we’ve devalued sermons and preaching by making them ubiquitous.

There had been some earlier discussion about how modern Evangelical church now consists of simply singing some songs and listening to the sermon. Little or nothing else. There is no particular compelling need to be physically present for this if you can buy or download the worship team’s album and listen to the messages at home.

I reminded my wife, who was getting ready to lead worship on Sunday** how important it is for her to continue to provide the interactive worship elements that she always incorporates in her part of the service. I thought of another area pastor who always includes a weekly discussion question where people break up into groups of 2-4 people. Or maybe you still are in a smaller church that takes prayer requests, or at least as a “pastoral prayer” for needs in the congregation and the community.

Absent those elements, you’re left with just the sermon and, like the man said, you’re giving “an invitation not to come.”


*We prefer the term sermon junkie.
**She also typed today’s interview transcript for me.

November 6, 2017

Five Letters America Needs to Write

To the American People;

While those who helped form and shape of our country had nothing but our best interests in mind, time has shown us that upon internal investigation and when seen through the eyes of the world, one aspect of one of our founding documents is presently flawed. Therefore, acting as we would under emergency measures in a wartime situation, our upper and lower houses of government need to immediately suspend all other activity and work in a bipartisan manner toward the immediate suspension and repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, including the clear stating of its antithesis, namely that there is no further blanket right to bear arms.

To the members of the National Rifle Association (and other similar special interest groups);

Your financial contributions to citizens seeking to hold elected office have enlivened political campaigns and helped form a robust political process, creating an environment allowing aspiring politicians to spend millions in order to have their message and agenda reach the electorate. Unfortunately, history will show that such action clouded the judgement of these legislators, even to the point where the perceived needs of some people undermine the principles of a democracy that serves the broader populace. Because your organization enshrines a constitutional right that is being repealed, we must ask that in the interim such campaign funding immediately cease and desist, as all forms of election campaign funding undergoes sweeping reevaluation.

To State and local governments;

America must change. It would be preposterous to suspend the former 2nd Amendment, only to have state, county or municipal governments reenact it or reinstate it in some form. A reworded constitution will clearly state no state laws will provide the citizenry with a fundamental right to weapon ownership, and existing statutes which are based on the former right will be similarly repealed or rewritten.

To the Educators of the United States;

In the spirit of what the constitutional framers stated as forming “a more perfect union;” American public education needs to be amended to include the teaching of ethics as a core curriculum subject; one given equal weight to subjects such as English, History, Geography, Mathematics, and Science; with successful completion necessary to educational advancement. The subject matter will be age-appropriate and run through elementary, middle school and high school grades and be compatible with common ethics, morals and values; and provide a compendium of teaching reflecting major religious and philosophical perspectives; but also annually incorporating a unit on the ethical basis for the value of human life.

To the manufacturers of guns and similar weaponry;

Because maintaining the status quo was no longer an option, as the 2nd Amendment is repealed, we as a nation we have no other option than to intervene in the manufacture, distribution and marketing of non-military weapons, and to move such products to a highly restricted status which immediately precludes any further increase to the available national supply.


Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Jeremiah 9:1


Will any of the above letters ever be written? I fear they won’t. The United States is now effectively broken beyond remedy.

November 5, 2017

When Science and the Bible Contradict

The one where the astronauts come back from the International Space Station and tell you that they didn’t see the floodgates of heaven…

So I was flipping through the pages of an old Bible I haven’t used in at least a couple of decades and I found the above photocopied sheet sitting between two of the pages. I remember it clearly, but have no idea as to the source. From a scientific perspective, most of what’s in this image is just plain wrong. Did people once believe this? Is this someone’s concept of what they might have believed if they had owned King James Version Bibles? (Kinda like that drawing — see below — where someone takes the description of the ideal woman in Song of Solomon and shows what it would like literally?)

But what if you’re a kid in some previous era’s version of high school and based on the Bible, this is your model of what the world looks like, and modern science is trying to tell you it’s not true?  Or what if your Bible talks about “the rising of the sun” and suddenly you’re being told that the sun doesn’t arise at all but in fact the earth is revolving?

Surely that’s the end of Christianity then and there, right?
Apparently not. Christianity survived the destruction of such misplaced beliefs. And certain verses weren’t excised from the text, either.

The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is bigger than science. It’s bigger than all the objections that people can raise.


Above: Some portions of scripture should not be taken literally. This was drawn in 1978 by artist Den Hart and appeared at The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine.

 

November 4, 2017

Inching Toward the Slippery Slope

Filed under: Christianity, family, marriage, prayer — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a church deacon at the Baptist Church, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

Short Stories“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. At that point he also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGinn’s Wings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I was starting to spend more of my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding on where he could walk nearby while Claire paid for everything, and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

November 3, 2017

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

This recently-released book from Zondervan deserves an award for “Provocative Title of the Year” and I felt that while Reformation Day is still fresh in our minds, I would mention it here. Plus, this is, to the best of my knowledge anyway, a rather unique Christian publication.

The full title is: Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbiblical. The author is Matthew Levering, a theology professor at Mundelein Seminary, University of Saint Mary of the Lake. In the interest of equal time, there is a Protestant response from theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer who does research and teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The book’s 9 chapters look at:

  • Scripture and its interpretation
  • Devotion to Mary
  • The Mass / Eucharist / Lord’s Supper
  • Origin of The Seven Sacraments
  • Monasticism and the Gospel
  • Merit and Justification; God’s mercy
  • Purgatory / Prayers for the dead / Penance
  • The conferring of Sainthood
  • The papacy

Each section begins with a simple one paragraph introduction which sets out the issue and also refers readers with less familiarity with what the Roman Catholic Church teaches to some primary documents. Following this is a summary of what the author views as Luther’s primary concern. The balance of each chapter is headed “Biblical Reflections” which aims to set out Biblical origins for the teachings which concerned Luther and concern many non-Catholics today.

Of the book’s 241 pages (in the pre-publication version) Levering’s main text comprises 166 pages and Vanhoozer is given 41 pages for rebuttal. The latter sees the conflict existing not between Protestants and Catholics but between “catholicism and one particular tradition (Romanism)” which he seems to view as a theological pattern in which carefully vetted scripture passages are chosen because they lend credence to a pre-determined, Vatican issued theology. But the tone of his rebuttal is cordial.

Full disclosure: I did not read every word. (Up to a certain point in writing his response, neither had Vanhoozer.) Some of this was above my pay grade, though it was published by Zondervan, not Zondervan Academic. I do not purport that this was written in my normal book review modus operandi. Rather, I intend to keep this on the shelf and refer to specific items in the list of nine as needed in discussions I have with Roman Catholics.

I understand why the publisher issued the book under this particular title in this particular year, but I still found the title needlessly provocative. The book itself, I find fascinating.


For publisher marketing info at Zondervan, Click this link.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to examine this interesting book.

 

November 2, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me: An Illustration of the Hands and Feet of Christ

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

Based on the book of the same name which is based on a true story, Same Kind of Different as Me is the unlikely story of the intersection of two worlds between an international dealer in expensive fine art and a homeless man who spent much of his life working overtime as a slave. Ron Hall is living the good life that involves interacting with high society when his wife Deborah drags him to reluctantly serve at the Union Gospel Mission. The 2007 book from Thomas Nelson later gave way to a small group curriculum as it raises many issues.

I had only minimal familiarity with the book — I knew it had sold well in some areas, which can be hard for a biographical work even if it reads better than some fiction — when invited to see the movie which, as you read this, is at the end of its second week in North America.

My wife and I were quite impressed. She even paid it the ultimate compliment (for her) by saying something as we left the theater, “It wasn’t a Christian movie;” by which she meant there wasn’t an overt gospel message leading toward key characters getting saved at the end. Indeed, this is actually the ideal Christian movie, where things are shown instead of told, and where Christian values are being lived out, rather than simply taught. Truly this is the Christian film you view with that unchurched neighbor, coworker or relative.

But it takes more than just a great screenplay to make a great picture. The additional points would go for some very plausible casting — I felt like I already know Ron and Deborah — and some rather breathtaking scenery, not to mention the visual image of the place in the woods where the homeless of that community spend the night.

The movie raises the possibility of much discussion about the type of activity which truly helps the homeless and gives them dignity and how, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.


Thanks to Tim at Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for the tix.

 

November 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

What happens when countries are lax about immigration policy

So…yesterday afternoon we went to see the movie Same Kind of Different as Me. I’ll have more on that tomorrow on the blog. But it meant that the link list was again a little shorter.

Our closing pictures are all about hats:

Rowan and Rowena - The Bishop Bears


We Have Bacon


From Wikipedia, this woman is wearing “The Order of the Swan.”


October 31, 2017

#Reformation500

At the very, very least; acting on his convictions Martin Luther started conversations which reverberate thousands of times each day, got people re-searching the scriptures for themselves, and paved the way for other reformations which would follow. Of greater significance, his bold courage was a challenge to the absolute authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Evangelicalism isn’t marked by a single date, though modern Pentecostalism traces back to a specific time and even a location, Azuza Street. The more recent Charismatic movement was well documented by John and Elizabeth Sherril in the book, They Speak With Other Tongues.

But the reformation is marked by a specific date, 500 years ago today, and much will be posted online today on the subject. Basically, Luther followed the money and found the sale of indulgences — certificates of afterlife exemptions — particularly grievous; but in 2017, many preachers continue to offer the faithful a variety of spiritual promises if they will phone in “their best ministry gift;” which usually involves a credit card number. Operators are standing by.

At the History Learning Site there is a version of the 95 Theses posted to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel in modern English by C.N. Trueman. Apparently the original went viral, as only a single-copy document could in a pre-internet age. All surround the single issue of the sale of indulgences. Some include:

1. When Jesus said “repent” he meant that believers should live a whole life repenting
2. Only God can give salvation – not a priest.
3. Inwards penitence must be accompanied with a suitable change in lifestyle.
6. Only God can forgive -the pope can only reassure people that God will do this.
20. Even the pope – who can offer forgiveness – cannot totally forgive sins held within.
27. It is nonsense to teach that a dead soul in Purgatory can be saved by money.
29. Do we know if the souls in Purgatory want to be saved ?
43. A Christian who gives to the poor or lends to those in need is doing better in God’s eyes than one who buys ‘forgiveness’.
45. A person who passes by a beggar but buys an indulgence will gain the anger and disappointment of God.
46. A Christian should buy what is necessary for life not waste money on an indulgence.
54. It is blasphemy that the word of God is preached less than that of indulgences.
58. Relics are not the relics of Christ, although they may seem to be. They are, in fact, evil in concept.
60. Salvation can be sought for through the church as it has been granted this by Christ.
61. It is clear that the power of the church is adequate, by itself, for the forgiveness of sins.
62. The main treasure of the church should be the Gospels and the grace of God.
77. Not even St. Peter could remove guilt.
79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross is of equal value with the cross of Christ.
84. Evil men must not buy their salvation when a poor man, who is a friend of God, cannot.
86. The pope should re-build St. Peter’s with his own money.
94. Christians must follow Christ at all cost.
95. Let Christians experience problems if they must – and overcome them – rather than live a false life based on present Catholic teaching.

Until today, I had never actually read all 95 and did not realize how they were single-focused. Sometimes it only takes one issue; the proverbial straw which breaks the camel’s back.

Luther’s greater contribution was to advance the idea of salvation by grace, not by works; and to offer Germans a Bible translation in their own language. Of his many hymns, the best known is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Far from perfect, his later anti-Semitic writing has been widely condemned. But his written rant on that October day 500 years ago is seen as the Ground Zero in the birth of Protestantism.


Other sources consulted:

October 30, 2017

Setting Your Agenda as You Start the Week

I started the day thinking of the great contrast which exists between the American ideal of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and the words in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I started thinking how I could frame my week in such a way as to render all the individual tasks and goals flowing out of a desire to glorify God, rather than working for the things that would grant me happiness.

The full phrasing in the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Twelve years ago, fellow Canadian blogger Tim Challies wrote about the phrase from the Catechism and noted an internal potential conflict for some Christians:

While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling…

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord…

His own doctrinal perspective surfaces when he states, “this belief is based on Arminian assumption” but he does come close — without actually using these words — to the idea that a balance is to be found between the activity of a Martha and the sitting at the feet of Jesus of a Mary.

The notion of life, liberty and happiness avoids both.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Jerry Bridges’ most enduring work is titled The Pursuit of Holiness, not happiness.

So instead of asking myself on Monday morning what will best drive my personal pursuit of happiness, I need to ask myself what will glorify God and cause my mind to dwell in all his attributes and delight in him? At the end of the day, each of us must answer individually for how we’ve used our time, talents and resources.

Footnote: While we have listed some national mottoes below, the provincial motto of Newfoundland in Canada is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Perhaps that best sums up what should be the goal of the Christian, for then and only then will “all these things” — the necessities of life — “be added on to you.”

Clarification: In fairness, given the appendix which follows, the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”


National mottoes (translated) of selected countries:

Antigua and Barbuda: Each endeavouring, all achieving
Bolivia: Unity is Strength
Brazil: Order and Progress
Denmark: God’s help, the love of the people, Denmark’s strength
Dominica: After God, The Earth
Ecuador: God, homeland and liberty
Fiji: Fear God and honour the Queen
Florentine Republic: Fall, you kingdoms of luxury, for the cities of virtue shall thrive
Gambia: Progress, Peace, Prosperity
Guatemala:Grow Free and Fertile
India: Truth alone triumphs
Iraq: God is the Greatest
Kenya: All pull together
Liberia: The love of liberty brought us here
Mali: One people, one goal, one faith
Panama: For the benefit of the world

…continue reading more at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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