Thinking Out Loud

March 14, 2017

Salvation is Instantaneous, Spiritual Formation Takes Time

img 032915I am frequently reminded that people new to the journey of following Christ often need time in various outward areas. Their inward growth may be great: A love for Jesus, a desire to tell others, and a cultivation of personal discipline in Bible study and devotions. But becoming a follower of Christ isn’t about outward conformity, and some things may need more time, such as:

  • Language – If you are directly involved in mentoring the person, then it’s appropriate for you to try to help them shape their speech along higher standards. But if you’re not the one doing discipleship with them, you have to let this go, most times. You’ll be surprised how more is caught than taught on this one.
  • Spending Priorities – A person may have begun a process of percentage giving to their local church, but still has spending patterns about which you may not approve. This may just be a matter of time and spiritual maturity. On this, I keep thinking about the little diagram in the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, wherein the various aspects of life have come under Christ’s control. (See second of two images below.)
  • Dress – This is usually a discussion about women, though it doesn’t have to be limited to them. In a church setting, sometimes someone needs to be pulled aside on this one, but it has to be done very lovingly so as to not drive the person away. Admittedly, in many of our local churches, this one is awkward.
  • Addictions – The Twelve Step Program meetings, in various forms under various names, are proof that once addicted, battling this can be a lifelong fight. One program which confronts this from a Christian perspective is Celebrate Recovery. Some things however, like smoking, should be considered superficial.
  • Attitudes – Everything from racial prejudice to arrogance could get tossed into this basket. Remember, they’ve not arrived yet, and neither have you. Rather than have an agenda here, it’s far more beneficial to you to watch the Holy Spirit work in their lives.

Did I leave some out?

None of us started this walk fully formed, fully arrived; but solid 1:1 discipleship, the influence of a small group, sermons which deal with the lifestyle application of various scriptures, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make a difference in what people see.

With people who manifest outward traits that you or others find problematic, remember that God looks on the heart.

 

March 13, 2017

For the Smart People in the Room

Filed under: Christianity, relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

You’re considered a smart person. You

  • are a quick study
  • have an encyclopedic knowledge on a variety of subjects
  • know how to think and articulate things logically
  • rarely find yourself at a loss for words

So many times you find yourself in conversations with people who may not share your gifts and understanding of different things. Here’s what I want to share with you today:

Your gifts and knowledge are only as good as your ability to present them in ways that the common person can understand them

and

your only barometer of how well you are getting through is to make high levels of eye contact with the listener and look for signs of recognition.

If you’re getting through, you can then move on to the next point, or know you can continue but communicating at a higher level. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Are you with me?”
  • “Are you tracking with that?”
  • “Have I lost you?”
  • “That’s not too confusing, is it?”

But if that’s the axiom, here’s the corollary: Sometimes you find yourself in conversation with someone who

  • is simply better educated
  • has a much more specialized knowledge of or training in the subject at hand
  • has progressed to an aspect of the topic that is above your pay grade
  • processes things more quickly than you and therefore talks faster

Certainly at times like that humility sets in. And smart people need that to take place in their lives from time to time.1 In those situations:

A truly smart person won’t continue the conversation beyond the point where they’ve lost the plot

and

it’s okay to ask the person to backtrack so you can regroup your forces and continue.

Faking it — pretending you understand — is a terrible choice. In those moments don’t be afraid to say,

  • “Can we go back to the previous point so I can see how we just got to where we are?”
  • “What’s the ‘…for Dummies‘ version of how you would say that?”
  • “What is the 25-words-or-less take-away of what you’re saying?”
  • “I’m hearing you but I’m missing the nuances of that particular argument/distinction.”

Rarely if ever are our interactions a conversation of equals.2 Wisdom will dictate that you do all that is in your power to level the playing field as much as possible.


1 A really smart person won’t begin a sentence with “And;” but that’s another discussion.
2 Sometimes you have to ask yourself why you’re in the conversation to begin with. Jesus talked about casting pearls before swine. Are you simply trying to look intelligent to someone, or feign intelligence to someone else? Talking over someone’s head, or allowing someone to talk over yours for an extended period is just a waste of time. Wisdom lies in knowing when to proceed and when to bail and cut your losses.

March 12, 2017

“…The arts should be evaluated artistically, not just theologically.”

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:13 am

On Friday, Internet Monk ran two articles back-to-back by the site’s founder, the late Michael Spencer. The subject was The Shack, both the movie and the book, though Spencer did not live to see the movie. I have reproduced the second of the two articles here because it deals with some general principles, but for added context, I encourage you to read both, which you may do so at this link: Fridays with Michael Spencer…On “The Shack” but for those who choose not to click, here is the second part.

Difficult Concept Workshop: Repeat After Me…”The Shack Is A Story”

by Michael Spencer

I just finished doing another interview about my writing on The Shack. My posts on The Shack have attracted a lot of readers, which is good, because if nothing else, The Shack is a phenomenon that needs to be discussed and better understood.

It seems that a willingness to denounce The Shack has become the latest indicator of orthodoxy among those evangelicals who are keeping an eye on the rest of us. It’s a lot less trouble than checking out someone’s views on limited atonement, that’s for sure.

Hear me loud and clear: it’s every pastor and Christian’s duty to speak up if they feel The Shack is spiritually harmful. I’d only add one point: it’s equally the right of those who find The Shack helpful to say so.

Obviously, The Shack isn’t for everyone. Like a lot of Christian fiction, it has a certain amount of gawky awkwardness. No one will ever call William Young a skilled wordsmith. I wouldn’t teach The Shack in a theology class, even though I find Young’s willingness to explore the Trinity commendable and personally helpful.

(Oh… I probably would use The Shack to discuss whether the Trinity is a hierarchy, a belief that critics of The Shack seem to hold as essential.)

It’s the presentation of God in The Shack that creates the controversy with the critics and the buzz with the fans, but the longer I’ve talked about this story with other Christians, I have to wonder if all the focus on Young’s “Trinity” isn’t missing the larger point of the book- a point that many theological watchblogs don’t seem to see at all.

The Shack is a pilgrimage. It’s an allegorical account of one person’s history with God; a history deeply affected by the theme of “The Great Sadness.” It’s a journey, and overlooking what’s going on in Mack’s journey is a certain prescription of seeing The Shack as a failed critique of Knowing God.

I’ve come to believe that the most significant reason for The Shack’s early success- certainly the reason I picked it up- is the endorsement from Eugene Peterson on the cover, an endorsement where Peterson refers to Young’s book as another “Pilgrim’s Progress.” That’s not a random compliment.

The Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy like to talk about Pilgrim’s Progress as if it is Calvin’s Institutes made into a movie. In reality, Bunyan’s Book is a personal pilgrimage, one that illustrated his version of Christian experience and retold his own experiences.

Even Spurgeon realized that Bunyan’s theology wasn’t completely dependable. The loss of the “burden” comes after a long search for relief, a storyline that reflected Bunyan’s own struggles with assurance and obsessive subjectivity. Few pastors today would endorse a version of the Gospel that left people wandering in advanced states of conviction, unable to find any way to receive forgiveness. Bunyan’s particular personality has too much influence on his presentation of belief and assurance.

But what Bunyan does illustrate is valuable in a manner much different than a theological outline. He tells the story of a journey from guilt to forgiveness, the confrontation with worldly powers, spiritual conflict, imperfect fellow believers and the inertia and resistance within ourselves. We can measure Bunyan’s book by measurements of correct theology, but I believe most of us know that this isn’t the proper measurement for Pilgrim’s Progress. We should measure it as a presentation of one Christian’s life.

It’s a story of a journey.

The same could be said of many other books. Take C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. It’s the journey of grieving the death of a spouse. Along the way, God’s appearances are all over the map because the “pilgrim” is moving in his journey through “the Great Sadness.”

Be clear: I agree with Ben Witherington III that Young’s book could use a theological revision, but I believe his adventurous exploration of God’s character is set against “the Great Sadness,” not “the Great Theological Examination.” When someone analyzes The Shack and finds 13 major heresies, I’d suggest you look very closely at the list. Some are legitimate concerns. Some are brutal victims of context and some are not heresies at all, but the critic’s discomfort with the medium.

Young is talking about a God who draws you out of your hiding place. If I understand Young’s own journey, this is the primary image in the book: A God who invites you and meets in the the very place where “the Great Sadness” entered your experience in a way that you understand the love that comes to you from the Trinity.

This journey is what should capture the reader. In one sense, The Shack is a bit of Rorschach test, and if you put it in front of someone and what they see is “emerging church heresy!” and “God is a black woman,” then you’ve learned what that person was most looking for in the book: a familiar and historically orthodox affirmation of God and a similar affirmation of who are the good guys.

But what about those who look at the book and see Mack’s journey? The Great Sadness? The God who draws you out and meets you in the place of your greatest loss? What if that reader sees the theological awkwardness and occasional imprecision, but sees those problems in balance alongside Mack’s journey to self-forgiveness, resolution and renewed intimacy with God? Maybe that’s why so many people who know good theology STILL like The Shack?

There is enough in The Shack to give all of us plenty to blog about, so don’t expect posts to end anytime soon. But I’m wondering if anyone is understanding that The Shack isn’t selling because there’s such a hunger for theological junk food. No, there’s a hunger for someone to compellingly narrate the central mystery of God, the Trinity. There’s a hunger for a God who is reconciling toward those who have believed and then turned away because they can no longer understand a God who allowed “The Great Sadness.” There is a hunger for a God who comes into our life story and walks with us to the places that are the most hurtful.

In other words, the theological fact checkers are probably missing what is so appealing to readers of The Shack, even as they see some crimes in progress. It is a contemporary Pilgrim’s Progress, but the pilgrim is a not a 17th century puritan, but a 21st century evangelical. The burden isn’t sin, but the hurtful events of the past. The journey is not the way to heaven, but the way back to believing in a God of goodness, kindness and love.

If Paul Young writes a book of theology, it should be better than The Shack. But if he writes his story, it is The Shack. I don’t buy it all, and most people I’ve talked to don’t either. But that’s not the point. It’s Young’s journey that he’s recounting and we’re reading, and that’s how we’re reading it: a story.

Note to writers: When it comes to fiction, don’t listen to the critics who want to take you down for your theology. Tell the story that’s in you, whether it passes the orthodoxy test or not. This isn’t Puritan Massachusetts yet. WRITE THE STORY. The people who read stories as theology lectures are NEVER going to approve.  -M.S.


Something we rarely do here is close comments; but if you have one, it is better posted at the original source.

The post title here is a quote from the first part of what ran Friday. I would have like to have run both, but it’s a best practice to send them the internet traffic.

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

March 10, 2017

House Party: Barbecue, Pool, a Movie, and “We’re having a guest preacher.”

It’s a summer weekend. You invite a few friends over to use the pool, enjoy a barbecue, and watch a movie on DVD. Oh, and you’ve also invited a preacher who will sit everyone down in the living room for a 40 minute sermon. Wait, what? Wouldn’t an Amway Ambush be better than listening to a sermon?

While your swim, burger, and film night might include comfortable chairs, popcorn, refreshments, etc. in 2017, inviting a preacher might have been the equivalent type of party in the 18th century.

Victorian ParlourWhile reading 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas a few years ago, I encountered the term parlor preaching, or if you prefer, the more Anglicized spelling, parlour preaching. Apparently William Wilberforce’s family would have John Newton over for the evening as a guest speaker. If magicians can do parlor tricks, I suppose pastors can parlor preach.

A short trip to a few search engines later, I am not a whole lot wiser on this subject. How widespread was this type of social event? Was it the province of the aristocracy or upper class, or could anyone commission the pastor for a thousand words of exegesis and exhortation?

Though it seems to harken back to a long bygone era, I love the concept. I just can’t see anyone pulling this off successfully today, especially if you get the kind of preacher whose voice raises when he gets passionate. The sermon, as an art form is slowly fading. Rhetoric in general is getting lost in a world of txt msgs and 140-character Tweets. Most party invitees don’t want to arrive at your home only to find they’re at church.

With the absence of information we have to do some guessing. My money’s on this phenomenon as being more church service than small group, but as one-off event. A theological education was highly prized and respected, so the type of interactive format we enjoy in small groups wouldn’t be as likely to occur. You certainly would never offer an alternative view and you might not feel comfortable asking a question, either. At best, you’d save it until afterwards when tea was served.

But it could have resembled house church. There would be a piano in the parlor (aka ‘front room’ or what we would call the ‘living room’) so possibly there could be some singing, with the latest worship songs being transmitted from place to place via printed sheet music (no doubt, CCLI song #5) followed by something the preacher had prepared. Start time and dress would be less formal than Sundays and probably children (if present) would be free to sit on the carpet.

Again, I’m making all this up because there is very little corroboration online for this. If you know differently, please fill the rest of us in.

We do this today, sometimes inviting friends over to watch a sermon podcast, though we have the freedom of hitting the pause button. Today, we don’t expect our pastors to be suburban circuit-riders, in fact pastoral home visitation in general is going extinct, a topic for another article, I suppose.

Still, I would love to travel back in time to be part of one of those informal house meetings; a kind of house concert with a spiritual orator instead of a singer. I’ll bet the preaching would be first-class.

March 9, 2017

Evangelism Hesitation: Scared Wit-ness-less

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:18 am

On Sunday the pastor asked people to name the first words which came into their heads when they hear the word evangelism. There were more than a dozen responses, which he wrote in two columns, positive and negative. The negatives were:

  • It’s scary
  • I don’t have enough knowledge
  • I don’t want to appear pushy
  • I have zero confidence
  • I’m afraid of rejection
  • It’s become politically incorrect
  • It involves crossing personal boundaries

But then he went on to explain that in past months he’s been on a new diet and he’s lost a lot of weight, and as a diabetic, he has not needed insulin (which is very rare to say the least) and how easy it was to share that story with four people last week, while at the same time we struggle with finding ways to introduce Jesus in to a conversation.

Six of the seven concerns listed have to do with fear. Afraid to be politically incorrect, to cross boundaries, or just plain scared. Only one, knowledge, is something a person could resolve easily if they were motivated. But even on that score we’re told, “freely you have received, now freely give.” The man Jesus healed of blindness says, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Perhaps we make it harder for ourselves when we know what we don’t know.

The fear factor seems to be something that shouldn’t be there. We have the promise, “I will never leave you…” so we’re not alone. We have the promise that “God is our strength…” so we can summon the courage. We have the promise, “Open your mouth and I will fill it;” and “God will give you the words…” so we need to be anxious over the content of our verbal witness.

I remember years ago Randy Stonehill said, “We got the hottest news on the rack.” If people are drowning, we can throw them a lifebuoy. If people are dying, we have the medicine. When friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers hand us a clear opening, why do we hesitate to jump in?

We need to embellish the concept that we are qualified to help people get through whatever situation they find themselves in. Let others be afraid to cross boundaries, or not want to appear pushy. Like a trained emergency responder, we can arrive on the scene and tell people, “I am here to help you.”

March 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Germany’s Bernhard Lang took to aerial photography to capture this image of the slums of Manila. Up close the image of the church would look pristine and serene, but pull back and the surrounding neighborhood paints a different picture. Click the image to read the tragic story of what happened on February 7th.

Miss it here? You can always catch it at Internet Monk’s Saturday Brunch on the weekend. (It’s okay…it works both ways! Hi, Mike and Daniel.)

“…At the most basic level, this is a classic example of a false equivalence, which itself is the basis for so many internet memes that try to equate two unrelated issues based on a shared trait. Despite being a logical fallacy, the seemingly straightforward checkmate power of the false equivalence has made it the crack cocaine of many a political debate – especially on the internet… Had even the slightest bit of effort been put into this pseudo-exegesis, its proponents would have noticed a rather inconvenient truth: according to the book of Revelation itself, the gates of heaven are never closed…” Click the image to read at source.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.

So…

…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.

 

March 6, 2017

If Jesus Attended My High School

rene-schmidtToday we have a guest writer. René Schmidt wrote the following in the context of his role as the Director of The Beacon, a youth centre in Brighton, Ontario where he is on staff with Quinte Youth For Christ.  He’s also a published, award-winning author. Learn more at writersunion.ca or read his blog at booksbyreneschmidt.blogspot.ca.

• by René Schmidt

With some teenagers I have been discussing what Jesus may have been like as a teenager, or today, what Jesus would be like if he was a student in one of our local schools. What clothes would he wear? Who would be his friends? Would he seem ordinary in some ways?

So this is a poem I wrote about that…

If Jesus Attended My High School

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

Maybe young Jesus would be the total sports achiever
Who could anticipate passes as a football receiver
Would his game-skills be awesome or his skating the best?
Would he be faster and smarter than all of the rest?

Would he be good-looking for the girls to admire?
Strong and handsome and he’d never perspire?
Or would he be a joker, the best kind of class clown,
Witty and smart, someone cool to be around?

When I try to fit in I wonder how Jesus would fare?
Would he buy the latest styles or blue-dye his long hair?
Would Jesus the teenager even think of these things?
Like who to ask to the semi, or perhaps the spring fling?

Would we be friends on Facebook or would he tweet on Twitter?
Would he wear clothes with pinstripes or glitter?
Maybe Jesus would avoid social media so speedy
And instead be spend time with a friend who was needy

Maybe Jesus would be a studious guy off in another zone
Reading dusty old textbooks in the library alone
He’d surely be smart, especially in History,
And know all the answers – to him nothing’s mystery!

He would know me, right down to my middle,
But would I know him? Recognize him, a little?
Jesus on earth wasn’t automatically respected
Born to poverty, not influence, and often rejected

WWJD says try to do what he would do, live as he did
But we imagine him a grownup man, not a teenaged kid
Because as a teenager in my school, I’m guessing that rarely
The day would go by that a Jesus would be treated fairly

Maybe teased for being good or the way that he talked
Or who really was his father, was he born out of wedlock?
Maybe he’d be short and ignored, not allowed in the club
Because those shy quiet types are the ones people snub

If a kid was friendless Jesus would text that kid’s phone
And he’d talk to that strange kid who is always alone
Jesus had a purpose and wouldn’t be embarrassed
To be seen with me when I’m being harassed

So maybe not fitting in at school isn’t the worst thing ever
Not belonging with the cool groups, or being thought clever
If Jesus went to my school, I hope that I’d recognize
Him for his goodness and kindness not his beauty or size

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

March 5, 2017

For Those Who Work With God, But Might Not Walk With God

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Charles Price returned to the pulpit of The Peoples Church in Toronto for two Sundays and shared this in the first message on February 19th. The section quoted below begins at 28:16 of this sermon.

rev-charles-price“…Some time ago I was going through a difficult time.  Battles were raging in my soul, I was weak, defeated and one day [my wife] Hilary asked me the question, “Is Jesus your friend?” and I thought about that.

I thought about the fact that I work with him most of my dealings are with him or about him, or they’re about his word, about knowing his mind, about knowing his will, about wanting his power.  I came to a sober conclusion, that Jesus was my business partner first, and not my friend.

She said in effect, “I can see that. Let him be your friend.”and it became a vitally important and significant challenge and issue in my life.

We can function out of obedience to God.  Those of us who are in Christian ministry, you know, it’s the easiest place to backslide because it’s your job, and yet your heart can be distant.  We can acknowledge his presence – you and I can do that, we can metaphorically tip our hat to him and say, ‘Yes, thank you, you’re there, you’re there.  I want you to bless me,’ But not live out of a daily, fresh love relationship with him.”

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