Thinking Out Loud

August 25, 2019

Teaching Notes for Philippians 2:5-11

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:00 am

To hear the audio of the sermon and see the slides, click this YouTube link.

Have the same mindset as Jesus

  • Paul invites us to copy him as he copies Christ. 1 Cor 11:1 “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.
  • Mindset = worldview. KJV uses attitude.
  • Contrasting with Rom 12:2a “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…
  • “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi”
  • Stephen Crumbacher’s Hollywood analogy: “I’m an understudy to the star of the show.”

Although He. Was. God.

  • Not half-God, half-man, but fully each
  • “His head in eternity, his foot in Eden.”
  • phrase “son of man” echoes his dual nature
  • concept of “incarnation” is one of the most difficult for Christians to process
  • trinity diagram (see below), but with an extension for the years the son of God walked the earth as “Jesus Barjoseph”
  • “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence..” John 8:38a
  • “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” – John 8:58

Did not see his divinity as something to be leveraged

  • Sermon on the Mount presents radically new teachings, but not presented with arrogance.
  • Divinity not used for personal gain; there is always an outward focus
  • He willing assumed certain self-limitations
  • [aside: “something to be grasped” in KJV creates misunderstanding, as in ‘I tried Advanced Calculus but I couldn’t grasp it.’ The question of ‘What did Jesus know and when did he know it?’]

Rather, he chose the path of Humility

  • part of the much larger upside-down Kingdom that Jesus introduced
  • Philip Yancey in Vanishing Grace: “…Jesus has a different set of qualifications for his kingdom than does civilization. His stories consistently made the wrong character the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible elder brother, the Good Samaritan not the good rabbi, a scabby beggar not the rich man. Those people most attracted to him included undesirables such as a half-caste woman with a checkered past, a blind beggar, ten exiles with leprosy, a corrupt tax collector, a prostitute, a Roman soldier – all outcasts by the standards of proper Jewish society. Religious professionals, legal scholars, a king, and a governor: these were the ones who arranged Jesus’ death.”
  • a) in comparison to what he gave up (“He left the splendor of heaven” – Gaithers, If That Isn’t Love.)
  • b) in comparison to others; an itinerant peripatetic ministry; “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'”  – Luke 9:58  also in Matthew 8:20
  • The poem, One Solitary Life: “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.”
  • What is humility? An extension of the “love” foundation upon which other character traits should build. I Cor 13, replacing humility for love, 4-5a Humility is patient and kind. Humility is not jealous [humility is not] boastful [humility is not] proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.”
  • Similar to “meekness” – strength/power under control; Blessed are the meek
  • Looking out for others, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – from the verses immediately preceding the Philippian hymn.
  • “We who are strong ought to bear with the shortcomings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” – Romans 15:1
  • “Humility is the 10th fruit of the spirit.” – source unknown

And took (chose) the role of a servant

  • “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” John 13:3… what will Jesus do next? Smite the Pharisees?
  • line is reminiscent of ‘He. Was. God’ in this passage
  • verse 4/5, “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”   Wait. What?
  • Some have dared to argue that rather than the cross, ‘The towel and the basin ought to be the symbol of the church.’
  • …but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…so…

He entered into the human condition

  • Jesus grew in wisdom (knowledge), stature (physically) and in favor with God (spiritually) and man (socially). – Luke 2:52 (languages echoes that of description of Samuel in I Sam 2:26)
  • verse 40 of same chapter: ” He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.”
  • ‘Love was when, God became a man.’  – incarnation
  •  John 1:14a – The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood,
        and moved into the neighborhood.
    We saw the glory with our own eyes,
        the one-of-a-kind glory,
        like Father, like Son…
  • took up residence among us
  • pitched his tent among us – widely used metaphor – ‘God goes on a camping trip’

Just. Like. Us.

  • contrast with He. Was. God.
  • some things are mystery
  • [Sidebar: Just like us unless you count the whole ‘mount of transfiguration’ thing, or the whole walking on water thing!]
  • We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us – Hebrews 4:15
  • “What if God were One of Us?” – Joan Osborne song; but if we were try to put some positive spin on this song (which I’m not recommending) it would be in relation to Matthew 25:43-5 “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ But generally, the song is too problematic to be useful to us here. Better to focus on a song like “Servant King” by Graham Kendrick. “From heaven you came helpless babe / entered our world your glory veiled / not to be served but to serve…”

Even to the point of death

  • the thing which, honestly speaking, is perhaps our greatest fear, the thing many most dread
  • One Solitary Life, continues, “While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat. When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.”

And a death of the worst possible kind.

  • (Generally) John Stott: ““Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.”
  • Carrying His own cross, Jesus went out to a place called The Place of the Skull… There they crucified Jesus. They also crucified two other men, one on each side, with Jesus in the middle. — John 19:17-18
  • (Specifically) Wikipedia: “Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), gruesome, humiliating, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal. Crucifixion methods varied considerably with location and time period.”

and then…*

At this, God elevated him to the highest office

  • For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12
  • A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.
     – Proverbs 29:23
  • But He gives us more grace. This is why it says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  – James 4:6 (referring to Proverbs 3:34)
  • Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. – I Peter 5:6

And granted him the highest title

  • lit. “name above all names”
  • His earthly name, Jesus, is a form of Joshua, a theophoric name, referring to the fact that Yeshua is embedded in it. It’s certainly noble, but not what’s in view here. Name is certainly revered however, and outside of Latin America, it is uncommon for parents to name a child Jesus.
  • a) Honor — same verse, The Message Bible: “honored him far beyond anyone or anything.”
  • b) Authority — Matthew 28:18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.'”
  • c) Power — Ephesians 1:18-23 NET “This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
  • d) Control — Col 1 (The Voice Bible) 16-18 “ It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.  He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. He is the head of this body, the church. He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first.”

That at the mention of his name

  • a whole study can be done on the scriptural significance of names, their meaning and what it means to do something under the authority of someone’s name, i.e. praying ‘In Jesus’ name.’

Every knee will bow (in physical submission)

And every voice announce (in verbal proclamation/declaration)

  • This passage is also in Romans 14:11, “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” where you also see a reference to Isaiah 45:23:
    By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
    Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every knee shall bow?” Not bowing? Yes, but also bowing to some other God. This is expressed in the second commandment Exodus 20:4-5“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every tongue confess?” Not proclaiming? yes but also misusing, trivializing, or profaning his name. That is expressed in the 3rd commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
  • So where is the 1st commandment? Wouldn’t it be nice to tie it all up with a bow and have all three covered? I believe that “You shall have no other gods before me” is implicit in Christ being Lord, of having supreme rule over our lives.

That Jesus Christ is Lord.

  • The early church adopts “Jesus is Lord” after the style of “Caeser is Lord” (Earlier, Jesus asks, ‘Whose image is on this coin?’)
  • Lord’s Prayer: Kingdom is repeated twice; Jesus came to set up God’s kingdom over which God is sovereign
  • “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” – John 5:23
  • If you want a verse that goes full circle on this, look at Jesus prayer in John 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed.” Jesus returns to the father to the glory that he had, but based on what we see, with greater honor, because,
    “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

To God be the Glory!

►►So what do we do with all this in our world?

While we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem.

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility; the laws of selfishness.

In writing to Timothy, Paul spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…”

We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from such things and keep a humble spirit.

*the situation reverses; for more on this form, which occurs many, many times in scripture, research the phrase chiastic structure.  For more on the dual nature of God, check out kenosis, but be aware that there are different takes on this doctrine and diving in was beyond the scope of this teaching.

The point about the diagram you’ll hear on the audio transcript is that you want to want to draw a “friendly amendment” to the diagram in the bottom left corner to somehow note the incarnate years of the Son. There wasn’t time to get into this, but we need to frame our language to distinguish between the Son who was co-creator with the Father and now sits at the Father’s right hand, and Jesus who grew up with Mary and Joseph. Similarly, we need to distringuish the difference between God the Father, and what some, for reasons of clarity call “the Godhead;” which the diagram as a whole represents.


August 21, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Each Saturday for several years, Religion News Service sends me the top pictures of the week in the wide world of religion and faith. To see all from the last week, click the image.
Caption: An Indian boy scavenges for reusable items amid idols of Hindu goddess Dashama lying in the river Sabarmati after the end of Dashama festival in Ahmadabad, India, on Aug. 11, 2019. The ten-day festival celebrated in the Shravan month of the Hindu calendar culminates with the immersion of the idols of the deity who is worshipped for good health and prosperity in this western state of Gujarat. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

We’re back. You’re back. Let’s begin…………………………………………………………………………………………………………(random bunch of dots to mess with the Twitter preview.)

■ Houston, we have a problem: Too many people are interpreting stories posted on the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee as being real news.

■ British children are going hungry during the summer holidays. Churches are stepping in. “This year, more than any before has seen a growing recognition that the school holidays present significant challenges for low income families reliant on free school meals. In addition, tax changes and welfare cuts made over the past decade have compounded the situation – often hitting those who are most vulnerable, the hardest.”

■ …Meanwhile in the UK, the iconic — first broadcast in 1961 — weekly BBC television show Songs of Praise, which normally features…wait for it…songs of praise instead presented a same-sex wedding.

■ This story adds to my hypothesis that the reason many people who left the ministry under less than desirable conditions return to preaching is because they really can’t do anything else. “As he gets ready for the fall launch of his unaffiliated The Sanctuary church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, who was stripped of his preaching credentials in 2015 due to extramarital relationships with former congregants, says they were all ‘consensual’ and not an abuse of power.

■ Peter Enns is sorry to disappoint you, but America is not in the Bible. (Or maybe he’s not so sorry.)

■ It’s fiction, but not Christian fiction; at least not overtly since it’s published by Simon and Schuster, not Zondervan or Bethany House. A mainline Protestant church is the subject of a new book, The Dearly Beloved. “First-time novelist Cara Wall tells the story of two ministers and their wives, who are called to a large Presbyterian church in New York City in the early 1960s and spend their lives ministering there. Each individual in the foursome gets equal treatment—their stories, their inner lives, their histories, and their perceptions of each other are handled like a cube that is slowly turned over in the reader’s hands. They become increasingly interconnected…” (Review may contain spoilers.)

■ Recent stories of de-conversion: Scot McKnight weighs in, “…a person apostasizes or leaves the faith to find independence. This autonomy can be intellectual, psychological, or moral (or behavioral) or more than one or all of them. My study leads me to believe we should be looking through the statements of someone like Marty Sampson to what he wants to do, how he wants to behave, to whom he wants to answer. He’s looking for independence for something.”

■ 10 Questions to find out if you’re prepared for marriage. Just maybe not the 10 questions you were expecting.

■ Steve Carter on last month’s statement from the elders at his former church, Willow Creek. “…Regardless of intention, the elders chose to step over and sidestep the women who had already been so victimized by the leadership of Willow. The truth wasn’t named, but reconciliation was advised again and again. Reconciliation is a beautiful word and so close to the heart of God, but scholars will tell you reconciliation isn’t possible if the truth is not named…”

■ Parenting Place: From the wider internet, this article on ten things you need to establish as a new school year begins.

■ This October InterVarsity Press (IVP) is re-issuing, in its Signature Collection series, two classic books: How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little and Basic Christianity by John Stott. See all the new IVP releases at this link. (Announcer: A long time ago, in a world before subtitles…)

■ For Pastors: 5 Things I learned as a pastor’s kid.

■ One-minute video message: Who wrote the book of Jonah?

■ Dating Dilemma: Don’t go to church looking for a mate, at least not according to a new study by Lyman Stone: “Just 12% of prime-age unmarried men both believe basic Christian teachings and are meaningfully practicing Christian piety. The figure is about 18% for women. This means that for both men and women, majorities are not in any meaningful sense practicing or believing Christianity.” An article about the study notes, “That means that if you are a devout Christian looking to marry another devout Christian, the number of potential spouses is tiny. Stone believes this explains why today only four percent of Americans meet their significant other at church – whereas it was still 12 percent in 1940.” The author writes, “Finding a good spouse requires a considerable volume of options…”

■ Essay of the Week: We don’t usually get political, but for the sheer poetry of this article it’s worth the read, regardless of your stand: If Migrants Were Handguns

■ …which brings us to… Who is behind the National Prayer Breakfast? A new Netflix documentary examines ‘The Family’ in a 5-part series. John Fea at The Washington Post” Many viewers will inevitably equate the Family with American evangelicalism. And who would blame them if they did? Some of the Family’s most troublesome practices reflect an approach to religion and politics that led 80 percent of American evangelicals to vote for Trump in 2016. Many of the politicians who gravitate toward the Family have run campaigns designed to convince evangelicals that gays, Muslims, Barack Obama and immigrants are eroding white Christian America.”

■ As a follow-up to the article we posted here yesterday, Sarah Bolme at Christian Book Marketing asks, How Many Christian Bookstores Remain? …

■ …Steve Laube also weighed in on the same subject, pointing to a new website that helps U.S. consumers locate existing stores

■ …which you can find here.

Veggie Tales is back! “The iconic Christian children’s program, which has attracted millions of fans with its mix of Bible lessons, trademark silly songs and, yes, Monty Python-esque humor, is undergoing its latest revival this fall on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The Christian broadcaster will air 18 new episodes of VeggieTales, beginning with a Christmas special that will debut in late fall.” TBN applied to “license the show from NBCUniversal, which now owns VeggieTales.”

■ …Buried in the above story, Veggie Tales co-creator Mike Nawrocki “started his own creative company­ — one of his projects is a new series of kids books called “The Dead Sea Squirrels”…

■ New Music: Jason Gray – I’m Gonna Let it Go

■ New Music : Hollyn – I Think We Should Break Up (this one’s different, that’s for sure.)

■ The movie Overcomer opens this weekend. If you missed the trailer, here it is

■ …and we can now reveal that six months ago, the Kendrick Brothers talked to The Wally Show. (But you can’t really call this an interview.)

■ Scandalous! You’ve heard of the Preachers ‘N Sneakers account on Instagram which reveals how much megachurch pastors paid for their shoes? Wait ’til you see what Andy Stanley paid for his.

■ Finally — and remember not everything on “Finally” is true — Donald Trump tells Jesus to “Go back to Galilee.” ““Why is so much glory given to Jesus when Galilee is the worst run, most infested rathole in Israel? It’s a backwater. A complete and total catastrophe. And this guy tells the people of the United States how to live?” 

And now…Bible Illustrated presents, “When Christians Write Fiction”





August 20, 2019

In the Future, Amazon Will Control Much of What Christian Publishers Release

This article appeared today on one of our sister blogs, Christian Book Shop Talk, written for Christian bookstore owners, managers and sales associates.

An article released Friday by Canada’s Tim Challies on the influence that Amazon now has on the Christian publishing market has been making the rounds, and I wanted to wait a few days before responding. You can find The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon by clicking this link.

He begins dramatically,

A few days from now, or maybe a few months, or even a year, Amazon will pull a book from its site. One day it will be there available for purchase with all the rest, and the next it will be gone. One day people will be able to order it and have it shipped to their homes, and the next day it will have ceased to exist, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. This will inevitably be a book that Christians have embraced as orthodox but that the culture has rejected as heretical…

We’ve seen some of this happen already (especially with respect to Amazon pulling titles) so it isn’t prophetic. He then sets the stage defining the challenge for the future:

…[W]e inadvertently handed Amazon a near-monopoly over the sale of Christian books. We did this with the good-faith assumption that they would continue to sell whatever we published. But times have changed and are changing and it seems increasingly unlikely that Amazon will continue to sell it all. It seems increasingly likely that they will cede to cultural pressure—pressure that exists both within and outside of the company—and begin to cull their offerings. And then what? It’s not like these books cannot be sold by the Christian retailers that remain. But will publishers even be willing or able to publish them if they cannot be sold at the world’s biggest marketplace? Will you and I even be able to find out about them if Amazon isn’t recommending them to us? And will we be willing to pay a premium to have them shipped to us from smaller retailers with higher prices and no ability to offer free shipping?…

In a way, this is nothing new. Spin the search engine wheel and you’ll find many articles from the past accusing Christian publishers of only selling things that will do well at Family Christian Stores or LifeWay, and being extra cautious with progressive writers. But now FCS is gone, and LifeWay is phasing out its physical presence in America’s cities and towns.

Why should a publisher print something which retail won’t carry? Historically, that’s been a challenge, but now that in many parts of North America there is no retail (in the traditional sense) indie-published books compete with those from the larger, established publishing houses. The online behemoth is in many respects now calling the shots. Brick and mortar retail stores don’t matter as they once did; we’ve lost our influence.

What is new is the people to whom that power has been ceded. While dealing with a different aspect of this, Tim Challies correctly notes that,

Amazon is hardly a company founded by Christians or run according to Christian principles. To the contrary, it is a company founded by worldly people and run according to worldly principles.

And beyond the social issues Tim mentions, it bothers me that Amazon has no filters. A Jehovah’s Witness title, New Age title or an LDS title is just as likely to turn up in the search results as something from Baker, Zondervan or David C. Cook. Already, I’ve heard stories of people who unwittingly bought inappropriate books based on search engine results. This in and of itself highlights the value of Christian bookstore buyers and proprietors.

So what if those Christian publishers said to Amazon, “Since you now advertise as ‘the world’s largest bookstore,’ it would be nice if you would carry our titles exhaustively instead of selectively” or even dared to suggest that, “If you won’t carry everything, we won’t sell you anything at all.” If A-zon called their bluff on that, it would be devastating both to authors and consumers, since if a book’s A-zon listing doesn’t appear in search results, the book, for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

Again, to read the article at, click this link.


August 19, 2019

10 Things The World Misses About Reality

We do this thing periodically where we find a longer Twitter thread I think is worth sharing more widely — especially if the person doesn’t blog — and put them together on a single page. Today it’s one of my favorite teachers, John Mark Comer. We actually listened to two of his recent sermons this weekend from Bridgetown Church.

by John Mark Comer

10 things the secular view of the world (via pretty much every media stream, social media feed, etc.) completely misses about reality:

1. The reality of God as Creator and Sustainer of creation.

2. The goodness of life with him in his world.

3. Honor and gratitude toward God and all his image bearers (Christian or not) who have passed down, however imperfectly, that goodness, in whatever arena of life we so enjoy it.

4. A robust, honest appraisal of human sinfulness and our need to be saved.

5. An intelligent, clear-headed view of the satan as the evil behind so many of the social and systemic evils of the world, animating them by his dark energy; whose primary means of ruin is in the realm of ideas, more specifically, via lies, or deception.

6. An appreciative, but limited view of the role of government, economics, and other external solutions to the above problems of sin and the satan. (i.e., politics matters, but can’t “fix” the root problems of the human condition, only mitigate against them.)

7. Apprenticeship to Jesus as the first and primary way our soul and society is set right (justified, saved, healed).

8. Faith that God is at work in the events of the world, calmly working for good over against the evil caused by sin and the satan.

9. Hope that Jesus will return to finish heaven’s invasion of earth in the kingdom of God. That one day, “all will be well.”

10. Love as the supreme good; defined not as desire, sensual pleasure, or tolerance, but a compassionate commitment to delight in the soul of another, and to will their good, ahead of your own (agape), based on the example set down by Jesus.

What if we were to live with that vision of reality as our true north?


August 16, 2019

What it Means to be Human

Lately, I’ve been encountering the phrase, “What it means to be human.” Since I almost exclusively read from Christian sources, this wasn’t some self-help, or human-potential phrase being utilized, but rather Christian writers encouraging us that with with God at the center of our lives we can be all that we were made for.

But for the last 96 hours, I’ve been thinking about “What it means to be sub-human.”

Our next door neighbors came back from their annual two months away.

The man walks up and down the property which divides our houses growling a long list of expletives. No additional nouns, articles or prepositions in-between. It’s directed at us, and we know this. He doesn’t like us, and he doesn’t like our trees. He tore down every tree on his property, diminishing its resale value in the process.

My wife, who is not given to pronouncements of this nature, said yesterday, “I think he might be demon possessed.”

These are the people whom I once compared to another neighbor when we lived in Toronto:

We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

I just checked the date on that post, and it’s been almost exactly five years, so I guess this is a twice-a-decade rant, since it doesn’t look like they’re moving anytime soon, and we can’t.

We were made for more. We were made to serve God and love Him forever.

But sometimes, you’re only reminded of this when you see someone who almost seems to have been made for lesser things; who seem less than human; who almost strike out against the notion that we were all made in the image of God.

And that’s unfortunate, because the power of God in a life is transformative. And yes, it’s difficult, but we do pray for that miracle, though admittedly not often enough.

No graphic with this. What graphic image would you have used to illustrate this article?

August 15, 2019

The Best Christian Books Amplify the Bible’s Message

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

I didn’t realize I might want to mention this book here on the blog, or I might have taken some notes! The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with The Reign of God by pastor and theology professor Darrell W. Johnson was given to me by the staff of Regent College Publishing while we were in Vancouver.

Back home, I read the book’s 160 pages in just a single day. Eight beatitudes, ten chapters, total. Eloquently presented.

But now, ten days later, as I see the cover peering out among others on my coffee table, I can’t help but think that this is the best of what a Christian Living (the category in which Christian booksellers file the greatest number of titles) title should be all about.

I realize I say this occasionally, perhaps too often, but if someone was a recent convert and this was their first opportunity to read a Christian book, I would want it to be something like this; something which on a very accessible level says, ‘Okay, you’ve read the text before, you know it’s from The Sermon on the Mount, but now we’re going to look deeper and you’re going to see all manner of things you hadn’t considered.’

And then, in response, I would expect that young-in-faith reader to think, ‘If something like this can be produced out of just a single section of Matthew 5, then there must be thousands of layers of depth and insight that can be discovered in other Biblical texts.’

They would be right. 

One fun thing about the book is Johnson’s dealing with the repeated word, blessed. He offers, “Right on” are the poor in spirit, or those that mourn, and frequently reverts to, “You lucky bums!” That took some getting adjusted to!

The book ends with ten sets of questions for group study.

As I said, had I known I was going to write this, I might have written some things down, but for now, suffice it to say that this is the type of book which got me interested in Christian books, in later distributing them, and selling them; and then much later writing about them online.


August 14, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Found this through this link on Reddit. The artist produces movie-style posters for a summer sermon series his church is doing. (A link takes you to three more.)

After many weeks away, welcome back to Wednesday Connect. There’s some great articles linked here, so slow down and take the time to click at least a dozen of them!

■ A real labor of love: Michael Frost chronicles great movies that weren’t religious films, but Jesus showed up anyway. “I’ve gone for more incidental Jesusy characters, individuals you might not immediately think of as Christlike, but who’s story turns out to mirror the gospels in some way.” Stealth Messiahs: Christ Figures in Film

■ …On the other hand, an apologetics website suggests caution in using film illustrations in sermons. “…[W]e need to make sure that cultural engagement means we influence the culture with the gospel, not influence the meaning of the gospel with pop culture.”

■ A university affiliated with the United Methodist denomination has hired a Muslim chaplain. “United Methodism has over 100 universities and colleges. But very few of these schools have, dating back many decades, taken very seriously their church association.” “As United Methodism divides and reconfigures, traditionalists will have to think through what effective Christian education in universities and colleges should entail.”

■ First there was Joshua Harris. Now it’s Hillsong’s Marty Sampson. “I am not in any more… All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.”…

■ … but then in this Christian Post article he walks it back slightly. He  “clarified that while he hasn’t ‘renounced’ his Christianity, it’s nevertheless on ‘incredibly shaky ground.’” [Link added 8:55 AM]

■ …and if you’re wondering about Harris, there’s this

■ …and also this response from John Cooper, lead singer for the rock band Skillet where he says they are basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.”  [Link added 8:50 AM]

■ Pew Research: Only a third of Roman Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. “The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.”

■ Yes, he did do another list; as in Joshua Reich’s annual summary of the best 200-or-so quotations from the annual Global Leadership Summit. Samples:

  • “If you want to change things, you have to change the right things.” – Danielle Strickland
  • “Fear is part of every negotiation because we’re hardwired to be afraid.” – Chris Voss
  • “Too many of us struggle with impostor syndrome.” – Jo Saxton
  • “To be a leader, you have to have awkward conversations.” – Patrick Lencioni.

■ If you wish to insist that civic meetings open in prayer, that’s one thing. But be prepared for it to be a type of prayer you weren’t expecting.

■ Running ahead of the law? “After 20 years leading Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Alex Schadenberg is unsurprised by news a B.C. doctor has been exonerated for sneaking into an Orthodox Jewish nursing home and terminating an elderly resident.

■ New Music ♫ / KidMin: This appears further up the list for a reason, ya gotta watch this. Rend Collective introduces RendCo Kids in a video that will remind you of something Coldplay did awhile back.

■ As humble as he was, John Stott’s writing reminds us that Jesus was constantly talking about himself.

■ Making a difference: In 3 short points, something you say or do this week could prevent the next mass shooting.

■ FREE! Read the first two chapters of John Mark Comer’s new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry at this link to a 36-page .pdf.

■ Culture Watch: “YouTube has democratized the ability to make and share art.” (A column we missed back in May which is worth reading now.)

■ If he’s not the Pope… then why does it appear that people are kissing the ring of Gospel for Asia founder K. P. Yohannan?

■ The God who is “not like Jesus.” Roger Olson responds to the “watershed difference” between Calvinism and Arminianism.

■ We tend to think of church-planting as a Charismatic or Evangelical thing, but Anglo-Catholic church planters? I liked this sentence: “Like Jay, the 19th century Anglo-Catholic priest who built a boxing ring to reach people in his local context, many of today’s church planters are using both innovation and tradition to reach their local context in fresh new ways.”

■ Essay of the Week: When Christians suffer. “So why do our stories so often tend towards the triumphalistic? I prayed and: it got better, ‘x’ went away, the relationship was stronger, the addiction was broken, I was saved from… the list could be endless.”

■ If you think The Bible Project videos are just about books of the Bible, you haven’t tracked with what they’ve been up to lately. “The New Humanity” looks forward to a future reunited heaven and earth.

■ Scanning the Plugged-In movie reviews at Focus on the Family, I was reminded of the Unstoppable (another ‘Un-‘ title) movie which played in theaters in July. Did this movie appear where you live?

Memo to young Mormons: Vaping is not permitted. Does the youth ministry department of your denomination have an official position?

■ Parenting Place: Keeping the kids from squirming during church services doesn’t seem to end as they get older.

■ New Music ♫ – Apollo LTD – Man I Used to Know (click description for full lyrics).

■ New Music ♫ – Fresh Life Worship – Many Waters – recorded live.

■ Old Music ♫ – If you were aware of alternative Christian music in the 1980s, especially bands from England, you’ll want to know that Spotify has released a collection by The Technos (aka The Techno Twins). (Sample song.)

■ John Piper, again. Only this time, Relevant notes the revival of a 2012 clip where the Pipester addresses a group of Christian counselors. Awkward.

■ Headline of the Week: “This Cathedral Installed an Amusement Park Ride So People Could Get A Better View of The Roof.”

■ Runner Up: The Fairway to Heaven.

■ Finally, your favorite Bible stories retold as “Florida man” stories, as in, “…In other news a Florida man was arrested today for…” Don’t ask me, apparently it’s a thing.

Sourced at Happy Monday. This link will take you to several of the more recent installments.


August 13, 2019

Death of the Sitcom

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Even as broadcast television loses much of its influence amid the vast array of media vying for our attention, I usually devote a post or two to upcoming series, especially when there is something faith-focused which might interest readers here. In the latter case, God Friended Me is indeed returning for another season.

Today though, I want to focus on some shows which will not be returning.

I was sorry to see Abby’s cancelled by NBC. The program was a modern day version of Cheers with a few twists, the most significant of which was that the program was filmed in front of a live outdoor audience. You would think the novelty of that alone might have attracted more viewers, but the late-in-the-season start probably was its greatest challenge.

CBS cancelled Life in Pieces. Again, a show with a creative flair, consisting each week of four short skits interweaving characters from four families.

But most notably, ABC axed anything with kids in the cast. The Kids are Alright was set in a simpler time in the past — filmed in sepia tone for added emphasis — and portrayed a very typical devout Roman Catholic family of ten in the early 1970s. Fans of this show were very vocal when its impending demise was announced, and honestly, I was sure another network might pick this up the way FOX did with Last Man Standing.

ABC also ended Splitting Up Together. I realize that for Evangelicals, the premise of this one was a little suspect, but having watched most episodes, there was a quest to hold to some deeper values and principles, a flawed but earnest model of how to reconcile a broken marriage and deal with the damage done during the time apart.

I was less passionate about ABC ending Speechless, wherein Minnie Driver portrayed Maya, a totally-driven parent of a special needs child. I suppose with JJ moving off to university, some of the dynamic of the series — Maya’s interactions with JJ’s high school teachers as a best example — would be lost. Still, the show was groundbreaking for its portrayal of the challenges faced by a family with a son who has cerebral palsy, played by Micah Fowler, who knows that challenge firsthand…

…It was also the year that The Big Bang Theory ended, though we get one last season of Modern Family. For those looking for the usual faith-focus, I’m drawing a blank so far. Patrica Heaton is featured in Carol’s Second Act, and the show Prodigal Son, while having a Biblically-inspired title, is a one-hour investigative crime show.

FOX has three sitcoms featuring actors such as Kristen Whig (SNL), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, SNL), and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation); but you won’t get to actually see any of them, since all three respective series are animated.

And CBS, not content to bring us the aforementioned God Friended Me, felt the need to balance the goodness out with a little evil, or in this case the series Evil, “A psychological mystery that examines science vs. religion and the origins of evil. The series focuses on a skeptical female forensic psychologist who joins a priest-in-training and a carpenter to investigate and assess the Church’s backlog of supposed miracles, demonic possessions and unexplained phenomena.” It’s the term supposed miracles that worries me.

I think I’ll be spending more time this Fall looking for entertainment on YouTube.




August 12, 2019

The God Who Both Permits, and Desires to Melt Hardened Hearts

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Over the years, in addition to receiving the Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of forthcoming books, I have also been priviledged to receive manuscript editions; copies of the draft submitted to the publisher for final edit.

But then there are those rare occasions where you get to work with an author at a much earlier, more conceptual stage with what are basically rough notes or individual chapter drafts. You always wonder whether that person actually has what it takes to carry the ball over the finish line. (It’s understanding great metaphors like that one which makes me such a great editor.)

Such was the case when Carol McMurray, who I’ve known now for almost 24 years, walked into my workplace with some ideas she had for something she felt God was directing her to write. I looked her notes over and suggested that both my wife and I might go through them and make some suggestions. Mrs. W. is the better technical editor anyway, and I tend to deal with conceptual issues.

A week later Carol returned with some further chapters, including rewrites of some sections which we hadn’t yet returned to her, which isn’t the normal process, but there was no denying her passion and the building momentum to see this project through to a printed and bound book. At one point we stepped back because I still wasn’t sure, and we were overwrought at the time with other projects.

Then last week she walked in and handed me an envelope containing the finished book. She’d done it!

Melting a Heart of Stone: A Biblical Look at Hardness of Heart throughout History (Word Alive Press) was, at its earliest conception, the result of a conversation Carol had on the subject of predestination. With 40 years spent in a Charismatic church, divine election wasn’t a recurring topic.

So she delved into it, and found that while a case can be made for such a doctrine, it’s not the last word on the subject. Rather, every bit as equally, God desires to place in people “a new heart, a heart of flesh for a heart of stone.”

The back cover of the book explains the relevance of this:

If a reporter were tasked with analyzing the state of Christianity today by attending a typical Sunday service, they would probably conclude that all is well. The music is upbeat and joyful, the sermon clear and concise—with the aid of PowerPoint slides and a touch of humor—and visitors are met with plenty of friendly handshakes and greetings. But based on the conversation among Christians in social settings or on the internet, we see a different picture emerging; one of growing frustration and anxiety, and even some bitterness entering into our increasingly negative conversations.

With this in mind, consider the following questions:

  1. Do our choices matter to God?
  2. Can our attitude affect our destiny?
  3. How do society’s attitudes compare with the days before the flood?
  4. Is it possible to melt hearts that have hardened like stone?

Melting a Heart of Stone provides a biblical examination of the phenomena of anger, bitterness, and hardness of heart throughout history, delving into its root cause, negative effects, and the only possible solution. God is seeking those who through humility and repentance are willing to exchange their heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

Concise at 23,000 words (80 pages) and containing references to 42 out of 66 Biblical books, this is a message that I would love to encourage you track down and study for yourself.

The book is available through all the usual outlets, and North American wholesale distribution is provided by Anchor Distributors.

ISBN: 9781486618729 | 11.99 US/CAN

August 6, 2019

Grappling With Galatians

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:19 pm

…which brings us, in this the fourth of four articles, to the course itself; our reason for being at Regent College and our reason for going to Western Canada in the first place.

As I said yesterday,

“Grappling with Galatians” was taught by N.T. Wright on five consecutive mornings with two back-to-back lecture modules each day, each consisting of an hour of teaching followed by 15-20 minutes of Q&A. Ten lectures in total.

For the most part, the 325 students were there in earnest. There were a few who were clearly spouses of those more interested, but those were exceptions. Of the 325, I’m told that between 70 and 80 were taking the course for credit, while the rest of us were auditing the course.

While some Bible scholars quote their sources in the original Greek, N.T. Wright quotes Dead Sea Scroll fragment numbers. “4QMMT” came up frequently. Was it all Greek to me?

Surprisingly not so. My wife and I — both decidedly ‘lay’ people — felt that with a wealth of past reading to our credit, we were able to keep up with the nuances of the lectures. But we weren’t there for the particularities of Wright’s interpretation of Galatians, we were there as much to gain an understanding of his process.

Several times in that process he explained that some of his earlier commentaries contain views to which he no longer holds. He mentioned being influenced by his own mentors. He credited one of his students with providing him with insights into the text a year ago. He discussed a view that he had come to a year ago, and mentioned further things he was wrestling with on the airplane flying to British Columbia.

In other words, N.T. Wright, considered one of the greatest New Testament scholars of our generation, is still very much a student, a student of the text itself, and willing to be taken wherever the text leads.

I find that fascinating.

In the total of 15 hours in the classroom, Dr. Wright was at times very personal, but for the most part, it was all business. Questions in the Q&A portion were routed through a moderator. Unless you had a book to be autographed at the book signing — a total of 90 minutes were set aside with strict directions to keep conversations brief — there was no access. Through mere happenstance I was able to shake his hand and say ‘Thank You’ as he was leaving.

There was also a large public lecture held in downtown Vancouver on the Wednesday night which we chose not to attend, so that others could. It had sold out well in advance.

In the lecture hall, one of my questions was used, but its premise, related to I Corinthians, was edited out.

As preparation for the course, I hand copied the entire book of Galatians from the Kingdom New Testament (N.T. Wright’s version) which actually came in handy several times during the lectures. I also found having my father’s old NIV New Testament opened to the text most helpful, but was in a definite minority on that practice. Lecture notes were handed out each morning, but there was no use of visual aids such as PowerPoint.

Does that constitute a ‘review’ of the course? I don’t know. I have nothing with which to compare it. I do know that I consider myself blessed to be able to have this experience. It may have been a one-of-a-kind thing, though my wife is checking out other possibilities including how she could enter a Masters program as a mature student and take courses through distance education. 

One thing I would have liked to see was an opportunity where students from different parts of the world could interact with those from similar locations. Other than the morning water break, there were limited opportunities and it seemed that, other than the two days there were chapel services, people seemed to scatter after the lectures.

Thanks to our friend Jon who let us know the course would be offered, and coached us on buying tickets on the one day they were available.

N.T. Wright takes a question from the Teaching Assistant. Officially, photography was prohibited, but that didn’t stop a few of us in the final moments of the last lecture.








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