Thinking Out Loud

January 8, 2017

Blogroll Update # 6

Here we go again; this should pick up where the last list left off… First a recap.

blogThe link to part one. (October, 2014…six years worth of links to that point)

The link to part two. (St. Patrick’s Day, 2015)

The link to part three. (May, 2015, also included my news sources to that point)

The link to part four. (August, 2015, included blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

The link to part five. (August, 2016, a full year later)

The link to a mini update. (Just five weeks after part five the file was getting full again)

Blogs
Cardus Blog | Renewing North American social architecture
The Cross Court –
Charis: Subject to Change
flourishingchurches | Blog
The Domain for Truth
Sheologians | Theology for women, no doilies allowed. – Sheologians
The Little Friar
Man of Depravity | Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Brazen Church: A Community of Free-Thinking Christians
blog.bible – Equipping you to encounter God in the pages of ScriptureBlog.bible
Dei-liberations | Thoughts on God and World
Above All Else | Thoughts from Kelly Needham
Freed Hearts –
Restless Pilgrim
Theology in Overalls | Where Theology Meets Everyday Life
Rohadi Nagassar | Missional to Mega – Ideas for Church & Culture
Talmidim Blogging
New Life » Blog
Michelle van Loon
The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser | One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here
Matthew Pierce: I write stuff.
Vita pastoralis – Website of Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy
Gentle Reformation | Speaking truth gently
Sean McDowell
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – Home – intervarsity.org
Living On Tilt
Blog | Ed Cyzewski: | Author, Contemplative Christian, Freelance Writer
100 Movements
More Enigma Than Dogma | Relationships, Culture & Current Events
David Santistevan
Into the Foolishness of God
Vox Susurrantis | Aaron Wilkinson
Author’s Blog Page | SGM
Joel J. Miller | Theology That Sticks
Ancient Faith Blogs – Contemporary Insight on Culture and Theology
Blog Feed — George H Guthrie
First Things | America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life
Living in the Shoe
Over 40 of Today’s Popular Christian Blogs
Sharefaith Magazine – The Best in Church Leadership, Worship, Tech and Gear!
Speakingtruthinlove’s Blog
Convivium Magazine – Faith in our common life
Before The Cross | Glorifying God by Sharing the Love of Christ
Revealed8
The Thistlette | Christian & Feminist: You Can Be Both

January 7, 2017

Counseling the Counselor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

This first appeared in January, 2008 at Internet Monk and was re-posted yesterday. It would be great if you read it at source by clicking the title below.

Fridays with Michael Spencer: Jan 6, 2017

by the late Michael Spencer

Note: The following incident is fictionalized from real experience.

I look at my watch. It’s time for a counseling appointment. I clear my desk, bring in the extra chairs and wait.

My appointment arrives and the conversation begins. This is a first time conversation, with someone I don’t know. I spend a lot of time listening. Then questions. More listening. I try to put what I’m hearing into some kind of order; to make some kind of helpful response.

michael spencerI’m not a quick thinker. My feelings are always way out in front of my thoughts. So I have to be cautious in counseling to be sure I’m doing what’s needed and helpful.

My counselee says the conversation has been helpful. He leaves. It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes. Longer than I like, but not unusual for a first conversation.

What did I hear? I heard what it means to do the best with what you have, as God brings all things into himself through Jesus Christ.

I hear about a broken marriage. Silence. Distance. Public pretense. I hear about broken children. The fear of what’s next and the impact of what has already been. I hear about ministry; a ministry that goes on under stress that’s unimaginable to me.

I hear about faith and its stumbling steps to do what is right. I hear of guilt, the certain knowledge that one has fallen short. I hear the cry for restoration of broken relationships; the longing for Christian community and the church to be what family and friends have failed to be.

I hear about secrets and the reluctance to speak of them. I hear of the learned response of looking away; the habit of staying busy; of attending to “real life” and never looking at the inner world. I hear of the pain of sin’s lingering work, its blindness creating deception and its deep roots that drive us away from God, others and even ourselves.

I hear of persistent belief in God, prayer, the Bible, the work of the Spirit. I hear the ache for a pronouncement of forgiveness.

I hear the mystery of God’s call to be a servant and a minister when life is broken. I hear the mystery of God’s presence in the midst of brokenness that is not healed and darkness that does not lift. Yet, I hear of love for others and a simple, loyal, persistent love for Jesus and for the people Jesus loved.

I hear about doing the best you can with what you have, even when what you have is broken, wounded and bleeding from our human frailties and cruelties.

The world loves to point out hypocrisy among Christians. I want to point out the inexplicable, amazing absurdity of people who continue on with Jesus when any rational, reasonable person would abandon all hope. Of course, love is not reasonable or rational. Love suffers long, all the while rejoicing in the truth.

If you are a person who believes that all ministers and their families are picture postcards, let me break this to you gently: many ministers and their families are living in hell, and you don’t know it. Perhaps right in front of you. For them, the ride to church to face you may have filled them with fear that somehow you might see past their facade and into the failure and hurt.

The tendency these days is to project the image of the minister as young, absurdly happy, socially perfect and free from care and hang-ups. In fact, many ministers are living lives of pain and facing situations that would make you wince, if not curse. The price of being the shepherd of Christ is often high; so high ordinary persons could seldom stand to see it.

Perhaps some Christians are masochists. Or truly warped from being around so much need and paying too little attention to their own lives. I cannot say what is motivating an individual person to carry burdens that would break others, and do to it for the sake of Christ, his gospel and his church.

Part of me wants to say “Go fix your marriage. Be 100% available to your kids. Let the ministry go for a while.” That’s probably very good advice.

But another part of me senses that brokenness is part of ministry, and it is not for me to say to God or another person what forms of brokenness should stop the show, and what others can be carried on and through.

I do know that my eyes are opened, again and again, to the immense pain that surrounds me in the Christian family. So many of God’s servants are hurting in their body, families, marriages and in ways I cannot label or identify.

Yet these are some of God’s best servants and most Christ-filled saints. Some of his most useful, loving people. The crucible does not need to be approved by me or you to be effective. God chooses his own instruments, preparing, sharpening and equipping them as He chooses. His agenda is Jesus. Mine would be comfort, wholeness, happiness and so forth, with Jesus as the end result. God is only interested in making us like Jesus.

So the cross, and the instruments of crucified glory, are his doing. I am a listener; an observer.

I bow my head and pray for what I’ve heard and seen. I will do so many times in the future as I realize I am watching, in the midst of pain, a kind of holiness that is only a rumor for me.

We do the best with what we have given to us, or what we have left over or with what still works after the latest wreck. And God forms Christ in us, brings Christ through us, glorifies Christ in us and all in all.

In such colors, the Spirit paints the Incarnation every day, and presents the painting to the Father. And each picture looks more and more like the Jesus we have never seen with our eyes.

Or have we?

 

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

Virtual Choir Video with International Participants

Yesterday we had a eight-hour internet outage. Up to that point, I had been working on this afternoon’s devotional for Christianity 201, in which I wanted to share the following video and then find a Bible study based on this traditional hymn. Everything was almost ready to go, but then I needed the link for the video itself, and not wanting to overtax the temporary internet my wife rigged up through her phone, I decided just to copy and paste the link from here at Thinking Out Loud.

And that’s when I discovered it.

What, I haven’t yet posted this here? How could I not? (The answer is simple; sometimes when you’ve put something on other platforms, you think you’ve covered them all.)

Previously, I introduced you to David Wesley’s music and his album, Basement Praise. Then later, I helped spread the word about his seasonal album, Simply Christmas. I’m also positive we’ve shared with you his YouTube channel in various link lists.

But this project was different. The virtual choir video was produced, as the saying goes, right in my own backyard with participants in Australia, Germany, India, The Dominican, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Netherlands, Greece and the U.S. and Canada.

We got to hear this arrangement performed last spring with a worship team combining with a Salvation Army band in three packed joint services with nine different churches participating. Since this video released, I’ve listened to it over and over and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

January 5, 2017

A Call for More Heterogeneity in the Local Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:22 am

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28 nlt

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
-Colossians 3:11 nlt

scot-mcknight-a-fellowship-of-differentsAbout ten weeks ago I looked at King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and mentioned that we would come back to A Fellowship of Differents; both titles having recently been issued for the first time in paperback. Because of a number of circumstances which derailed much of my reading at the end of last year, I found myself forced to read this title more devotionally the first time, which was well suited to its 22 chapters; but later started at the beginning and re-read it in broader sweeps.

As the two scripture verses I chose to open this review clearly telegraph, this is a book about diversity in the (capital C) Church, but on a more practical level, in the local assembly you and I attend and the congregation which makes up that body. For McKnight, this is a factor central to the teaching of Jesus and (especially) the apostle Paul.

So what does this look like and how do we assure its reality? McKnight reveals his game-plan on page 24 where he notes his intention to track six aspects of Bible teaching:

  1. Grace
  2. Love
  3. Table
  4. Holiness
  5. Newness
  6. Flourishing

The chapters on Table — perhaps more of a shared meal and less of the once-per-month-service-postscript — could easily be a book in itself (and has been with many authors.) While love, grace and holiness are often taught, this one aspect of local church life is so terribly central to the fellowship McKnight envisions, and left me thinking perhaps many of us are missing something.

In the section on Holiness, there is a chapter devoted to one of the clearest descriptions I’ve seen of the decadence which surrounded the early Christians to whom Paul wrote his various letters. While the occasional reader might find this chapter too explicit, it provides us a necessary contrast between how certain terminology applied in Paul’s day to how we might (mis)understand those same words and phrases today.

A Fellowship of Differents is as much about Paul the apostle as it is about the church. In one section, McKnight asks, “Have you ever wondered what the apostle Paul looked like?” Quoting one source, “…a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged of noble [manner] with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace.” He then adds his own description, “Paul was a sick man, a poor man, and a foolish man… By the time he died that body of his must have been scarred all over. There is something morbidly fascinating about this beaten, bruised, broken-boned and bloody man…”

In many ways this discussion is a bonus; a wandering perhaps from the intention of earlier chapters, but a clear picture of the type of inclusion needed in a true heterogeneous church.

This isn’t a quick-fix guide to improving your church culture. I found the reward here to be far more personal; after all change begins with me, right? To repeat, you can read this in a few sittings, or choose, as I did initially, to take a month to read the 22 chapters as part of your personal devotional time.


A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together was released in paperback by Zondervan in 2016. More information is available at this publisher link. Long after the normal review parameters, a copy of the original hardcover was graciously provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

January 4, 2017

Wednesday Link List

A new year brings a new list… Each one of these takes on a life of its own and differs from the week previous in terms of the type of links and the overall tone of the collection as a whole.

January 3, 2017

Updating the Classics

Of the writing of books, it would seem there is no end. I know… I should copyright that sentence. But any observer of Christian publishing knows that the new year will bring thousands of new titles. But perhaps we need a few old books. We need their wisdom, but we need them in language we can understand.

A few years ago I made this suggestion. A few days ago, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and see how hard or how easy it is to do this.

First the challenge. This appeared in January, 2010…

Keith Green

In the early 1980s before his death in 1982, contemporary Christian singer Keith Green was publishing the monthly Last Days Newsletter in which, among other articles, he was translating a number of classic sermons and shorter works into modern English.

James Reimann, a Christian bookstore owner, took a look at the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and decided to present this rich, quality material in a way that his customers would understand it. The updated edition was published in 1992 and now outsells the original.

However, events of this type are rare. Some bloggers re-post the works of Charles Spurgeon on a regular basis, but if this material is so vital to Christian living, why not update the text?

Jarret Stevens gave us The Deity Formerly Known as God, an update of J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small, written for the next generation with the addition of bold typefaces and illustrations. When you have such a good base text to begin with, your work can’t help have value.

As a blogger, I’m often told how eloquent a writer I am, but the truth is that while I read several books per month, I struggle with older writing styles. I see the value in Spurgeon, Charles Wesley, E.M. Bounds and Andrew Murray, but I’m unlikely to impulsively grab one off the shelves unless it pertains to a particular topic of interest.

The Christian book industry needs to be encouraging more modern renderings of some of these great books. The authors’ take on scripture is often different and deeper from what modern writers extrapolate from the same scriptures. We need to connect with some of these classic interpretations before they are lost to a changing English language.

So on to the execution. This was written in January 2017 and was easier said than done; trying to get inside the author’s word usage took about three times longer than I expected. (By the way, Matthew Henry would have loved bullet points, numbered lists, bold face type, headings and subheadings, etc.) This appeared at C201 yesterday, and had to be finished in a hurry…

…The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry as amended.

So, go now and write all this down.
Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
“Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
“Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.” – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1. The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2. The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3. The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
“Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2. What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3. What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

January 2, 2017

The Perfume at Church Problem: There Ought to be a Law

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:47 am

Part One: The occurrence.

It happened again yesterday. We thought we would take in a New Year’s Day service at the church my son attended for several years. I know these people well. I love what they do.

My wife didn’t make it through the first song. The perfume was overwhelming. This is a church which has for years posted signs, placed notices in their bulletin and had a message included in their pre-service worship slides.

People who wear perfume to church don’t give a damn about those things. They ignore the messages. That’s for someone else, not them. Many of them belong to an older generation who feel they have already capitulated to too many changes in the modern church, perhaps.

But the culture has changed. Allergies and — in my wife’s case — Asthma triggers are more rampant now. That’s the reality of environmental reactions to common chemicals. Oh… and the perfume used today is probably cheaper and more synthetic than its predecessors several decades ago; pure unadulterated fragrances don’t actually bother her.

So here, for the umpteenth time, is her perspective. I might just have to boycott that church myself in solidarity from now on.


This is the Air I Breathe

This is what an asthma attack feels like.

First, you get a tickle in the back of your throat, way down in your chest. It’s annoying, and makes you cough.

But when you cough, it feels different. Like the air’s going out, but then not coming back in again. So you breath deeper, which moves the tickle deeper in your chest and makes you cough several more times.

At this point, you realize what’s happening and your chest starts to feel tight. Like you’re being squeezed in a giant fist and everytime you take a breath in, you can hear it, like a wind tunnel or a storm.

You start to feel a bit dizzy, light headed and need to lean on a wall or a friend for balance. Then, if you’re still standing, your arms start to feel weak and your legs get shaky because there’s not enough oxygen getting that far.

And every bit of focus you’ve got goes into breathing. Just trying to get enough air into your lungs.

So you dig out the puffer. The ‘rescue medication’. You shake it well, like the directions say, then empty your barely functioning lungs, put the puffer to your lips and, with your oxygen deprived mental faculties, try to squirt and inhale at the same time.

Then, to add insult to injury, you have to hold your breath so the medication stays in your lungs for a few seconds. Then, in 5 minutes, you do it again.

It takes about half an hour for the medication to do much good. At which point, you can at least stand up again.

I didn’t have asthma as a child. Like many, I developed it as an adult. Keeping it under control means taking meds everyday, as well as identifying and avoiding triggers. Which for me, includes perfume.

Your perfume.

That stuff you bathed in yesterday before you left the house for church.

I smelled it as soon as I walked in the lobby and my first response was a knot in my stomach. Oh, crap. What do I do? Do I sit in the parking lot while my family worships? Do I insist we all leave? Run down the road to a pharmacy and buy a face mask?

Being a stoic, I decided to soldier through. I thought, How bad can it be? Stupid question.

Did you notice me shaking my inhaler and taking a dose? Did you find it distracting?

I was sitting near you unable to breathe. And it’s your fault.

I spent the rest of the service just waiting for the moment when I could stagger across the parking lot to my car. And it’s your fault.

I couldn’t listen to the sermon, couldn’t sing, couldn’t enjoy the solo. And it’s your fault.

I couldn’t stay afterwards to talk to people in the lobby. And it’s your fault.

I went home and spent the next hour in bed. I’ll need 2 or 3 days to fully recover. And it’s your fault.

I will never ever again visit your church. And it’s your fault.

Don’t bother to tell me that you have the right to wear perfume, that much perfume, to church because I don’t care.

I just want to breathe.  


…This time my wife spent the entire 1 hour, 45 minutes in a coffee shop across the street, allowing us to enjoy the service. If there’s ever a next time, we’re all — all four of us — walking out. 

Part Two: The Denominational Factor.

There is a very non-coincidental thread to all this. It happens only at one particular type of church. And yes, they’ve received copies of the previous blog posts I’ve written on this, such as this one:

It happened again this morning to my wife. Mrs. W. figured that by attending a “camp meeting” style service where the side of the “tabernacle” is all windows she would be safe. Sitting at home it was a fair perception, the reality when we got there proved quite different.

She notices these things more than I. But this time, before we even got inside — which is most unusual — I was aware of the distinctive scent of artificial fragrances. When we walked in the lobby, it hit us like a wall. We headed immediately to a seat on the side under a ceiling fan where we figured everything would blow away from our direction, but it was already embedded deeply in her lungs and was slowly wafting over to the side from the center of the auditorium. We settled on a seat next to an open window. She made it through the service without standing for any of the hymns or choruses; but at home, eight hours later, is still short of breath.

Perfume1As she said — or perhaps whispered — on the way home,

  • it doesn’t happen at the grocery store
  • it doesn’t happen at the bank
  • it doesn’t happen at the kids’ school
  • it doesn’t happen at the post office
  • it doesn’t happen at other types of churches.

The last point is significant. There is a very definite spike in perfume at this one denomination; and our schedule takes us to many, many, many churches in the course of a year, so we ought to know. Three of her last major attacks have taken place in churches of one particular denomination. Sorry… but that’s the way it is.

And these people don’t care.

I say that based on something else that happened this morning. About three “items” into the service, it was time for the opening prayer; what some of you know as the invocation prayer. At that exact moment, a woman walked up to the woman in the row in front of us, grabbed her hand and started into a prolonged greeting and attempt at conversation which lasted throughout (and drowned out) the entire prayer, which wasn’t just a few seconds. Complete and total disregard for anything and anybody else. Or God.

My first impulse — and trust me, I don’t know why it was these particular words — was to say rather firmly, “He’s praying, damn it.” I guess my brain was figuring that the d-word would be appropriate to the urgency of the moment. I didn’t. This means that I would have been swearing during the invocation prayer; which someone would argue is far worse. I let the impulse pass.

“So;” you say, “Why don’t you get the message and stop going to churches of this particular stripe?”

It’s not an easy decision to make. This is a denomination wherein my wife and I have a lot of history. Our youngest son has also recently made his home among this same group of people.

However, I think that, in terms of going to worship as a couple, we made that decision absolute and final today. 


no-scentsApparently, with the passing of about six and a half years, we forgot our resolution yesterday. Time to renew our resolve on that, I guess. Will I send them a link to this? Not this time. I give up. 

Also consider posting notices like this where you worship; make your church a fragrance free zone.

 

 

.

 

January 1, 2017

Opening Prayer

Filed under: Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

lords-prayerLet’s kick off a new year by opening in prayer…

…For many of us the school day began with the playing or singing of the national anthem followed by reciting The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, also referred to by Roman Catholics as the Our Father. In the longer, commonly used version we recited, I found it interesting to observe that there are three words repeated twice, two are nouns and one is a verb.

The first word is heaven. It’s interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in Matthew 6:9 all the English translations kept the same word. You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required. Jesus is shaking up the prayer paradigm with Abba or Father, a form of address with unprecedented familiarity, but then we’re reminded that God dwells in eternity, that he is wholly other. He exists beyond what we can see, beyond what we can know, even beyond what we can process. One theological dictionary states, “the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness.” Solomon wrote, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” (I Kings 8:27)

The prayer forces us to look upward.

The second word is kingdom which somewhat bookends the prayer in the commonly-recited version. Standing before Pilate, a crown of thorns on his head, beaten, mocked and ridiculed, it probably didn’t look like Jesus was establishing a kingdom. But this was the heart of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”(Matthew 4:17); we’re reminded that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35) and the word is reminiscent of this Old Testament text, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” (I Chronicles 29:11).

He is establishing an invisible kingdom. But we, the gathered assembly of believers and followers are the visible representation of that kingdom here on earth.

The prayer forces us to look outward.

The final repeated word, the verb, is forgive. Elsewhere, also speaking on prayer, Jesus taught, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) It’s interesting that in a prayer describing the infinitude of God’s dwelling place and the vastness of his kingdom we see a petition for forgiveness, tied to the way we forgive others. It reminds me of Isaiah who is confronted by the majesty of God only to realize the contrast to his own sinfulness. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The prayer forces us to look inward.

What better way to begin a new year than to forgive those who have hurt us, offended us, or trespassed against us.


For a longer, 3-part version of these thoughts, click this link.

 

December 31, 2016

More from the Church Curmudgeon

I thought we’d end the year the way we did in 2013 with some 4th-Quarter highlights from everyone’s favorite (well, 93,000 people anyway*) anon account on Twitter,  Church Curmudgeon:

Church Curmudgeon

 

  • Between Pentecostal and Baptist worship styles, I prefer Baptist, hands down.
  • If the complementarians are right, Santa’s wife is a subordinate Claus.
  • The youth pastor just got back from 40 days in the wilderness.
    By “days,” I mean minutes. By “wilderness,” not looking at his phone.
  • Pastor’s on a prayer retreat this week. The secretary has been telling everyone, “He went to be with the Lord Monday.”
  • Asked the worship leader if he knew any hymns more than 20 years old.
    He started singing, “If you like to talk to tomatoes…”
  • Our auctioneer, Mr. Long, perused the last known flannel-graph showing the cosmic effects of the fall as he ascertained its value. Long weighed the world, in sin and error pining, till he appraised what the sole felt was worth.
  • Why did the worship leader cross the river alone?
    He was the only one who knew the bridge.
  • You can make anything sound grave and important by adding the phrase, “for such a time as this.”
  • Looking back, Linus must have converted from pagan pumpkin worship after Halloween, and began spreading the gospel by Christmas.
  • The worship leader was complaining about how our church hates change.
    To help him understand, we changed worship leaders. 
  • The difference between the Holy Spirit and the church wifi is that everybody screams if the wifi is gone.
  • Our pastor is now nearing his lifelong goal of alliterating his sermon points twice through the alphabet in one year.
  • What do you call it when someone gets saved just before the end of a Baptist’s sermon?
    A two-point conversion.
  • Our church is split between antinomians and legalists. Today’s closing song was “Trust or Obey.”
  • My Monday’s built on nothing less
    Than coffee pouring from the press
  • Made a Liszt.
    Went Chopin.
    Be Bach soon.
    Hope you can Handel it.
  • At the beginning of the year, pastor set a goal of funding one new church plant. If the Christmas tree counts, we did it.
  • There was an ascetic named Arius
    Whose view of the Son was precarious.
    They met at Nicea
    To mull this idea
    duly pronounced it nefarious.
  • Every head was bowed, and every eye was closed, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see you at the prayer meeting.

* And now 41,000 on Facebook, too.

December 30, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount as Many Live It

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

Exactly four years ago to the day, we ran an item on the blog which had appeared a few days earlier, December 22, 2012 on the Huffington Post blog. It was a retelling of the story of The Good Samaritan by James Martin, a Catholic Priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

I was looking back at the original article at Huffington and noticed it was one of three such retold Bible passages which first appeared at The National Catholic Review. As I looked at the next one, which spoofs The Sermon on the Mount, it was clear why I’d run the one I did. Perhaps I lacked the courage to run this one.

But this year I realized that what follows is probably closer to the way we live our lives — yes, even Christians — and is a fairly good representation of how some people wish those chapters in Matthew actually were printed…

james-martinThe New Sermon on the Mount

1. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 2. “Blessed are those who know how to defend themselves, for they will be secure. Blessed are those who arm themselves, for they will not be sorry. Blessed are those with one club, for they will be safe. 3. How much more blessed are those with two clubs, for they will be able to win a fight with those with one club. 4. Let the one who has two clubs buy four, and the one who has four buy ten. Let them increase clubs a hundredfold and a thousandfold.”

“But woe to you with no clubs, for you are asking for trouble. Woe to you who don’t arm yourselves heavily, for you’re just begging for people to steal your stuff. And I say, woe to you peacemakers, for you are wasting your time.” 5. The disciples were amazed. “Lord,” said Nathaniel, “Did you just say ‘Woe to the peacemakers?’ The last time you spoke on the Mount, you said they were blessed.” 6. “I changed my mind,” said Jesus. “Trying to make peace is impossible. Consider the world around you. Look at the beasts of the field. Do they not fight? Do they not tear each other apart with their sharp teeth? 7. It’s super dangerous. Do you think anyone can make peace? It’s a waste of time.” 8. The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “Lord, did you not tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?” 9. “I’m re-evaluating that too,” said Jesus. 10. The crowd began to murmur.

“Quiet!” said Jesus, rebuking them with a word. “Look,” said Jesus, “talking about peace and nonviolence is fine until someone asks for your cloak, which is exactly what happened to me yesterday. 11. A beggar tried to take my cloak.” The disciples waited on his word.

“Do you know what I did when he tried to take my cloak?” said Jesus. 13. James answered, “Lord, did you give him your cloak and some food as well?” “Are you kidding?” said Jesus, who was angry. “How long must I be with you? I beat him with my club. 14. That will teach people to try to take my clothes. That cloak cost five talents.” The disciples were filled with confusion and wondered what sort of teaching this was. 15. “Lord, how can we accept this teaching? It seems a violent way to live.” they said. “What about turning the other cheek?” Jesus looked at them with pity. 16. “Accept it or not,” he said. “All I can say is: Don’t be a wimp.”

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