Thinking Out Loud

April 10, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Birds of a feather
Host conferences together. (2018)
Ed Stetzer quickly cuts a check to pay back Harvest Bible Chapel for a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle purchased with church funds for him by James MacDonald (see second item in the list)

While I do promise to deliver stories that you haven’t seen in the past seven days, I will admit that I am guilty of repeating some key sources here rather frequently. That’s because there are some websites and bloggers which simply never fail to deliver good material. They are always on my weekly shortlist. 

The stories in this list are carefully curated. So to our friends at The Christian Post, stop psychoanalyzing bloggers or painting us all with the same brush. Stick to writing the news. The image below is pinned to the account of @Tim_Good. It looks about right.

■ New Denom: On March 27th, a group of Anabapt-ish pastors and leaders met in Alexandria, Virginia to begin a more formal association of churches that will be known as The Jesus Collective. Watch the 3-minute promotional video.

■ Ed Stetzer is the latest individual whose name is entwined in the web of deception affiliated with the Harvest Bible Chapel/James MacDonald story. At issue is a classic 1971 Volkswagen convertible. “Harvest Attorney Christopher Nudo…confirmed that Walk in the Word had purchased the car for Stetzer last spring and that in March, Stetzer had reimbursed the ministry for the full amount of the car, just under $13,000. Nudo said the money for the car had come out of a Walk in the Word reserve account and added that he was 95% sure that former Harvest CFO Scott Milholland had cut the check. Nudo said two other people at Harvest almost certainly would have known about the purchase of the car with Walk in the Word funds—James MacDonald and his assistant, Sharon Kostal, who no longer works for the church…Though Stetzer’s car may be the only reported incidence of MacDonald gifting a big-ticket item to someone outside the church, several sources told me that MacDonald had a regular practice of giving large gifts with the church’s money to people inside Harvest…”

■ Significant: Ted Cruz is on the warpath after Yale Law School caved to pressure from pro-LGBT students when a lawyer from a Christian law firm was schedule to speak: “In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, [Cruz] intends to investigate the extent and nature of Yale’s discrimination against their own Christian and conservative students, continue gathering information from various sources within Yale Law, from faculty to students, and possibly hold a hearing to determine whether their rights are being violated by Yale, an institution which receives federal funds and is clearly prohibited from this sort of action.”

■ “One Sunday I was looking for a song I really like by Elevation Worship and I realized the lead singer was wearing a pair of Yeezy 750s. They’re pretty rare, they resell for 800 bucks or so. I thought I knew about church-type salaries — my wife works for a church — and so I was like, ‘This does not compute. How is this guy wearing these kicks?'” Who needs real estate listings when there’s enough excess to be found in the shoes worn by celebrity pastors

■ Looking at a rapidly growing church brand, C3. “C3 has refashioned religion as a trendy lifestyle brand. But when your version of Christianity says that the Bible is the literal word of God, the devil is real, we’re all spiritually lost, premarital sex is a sin, and gay marriage is definitely a sin, it can make the branding part a wee bit complicated… C3 is a distinctly 21st-century manifestation of a church, aesthetically engineered to be as appealing as possible to young people, then packaged for global reproducibility online and off.” (If the name is new to you consider that in 2005 — remember that’s 14 years ago — “an Australian business magazine reported that its global revenue was believed to be over $100 million. At the time, C3 had only 100 churches.”)

■ Parenting/KidMin: An article on captivating the wonder and imagination of children contains a few quotations from Phil Vischer: “We’ve found that superficial teaching leads to superficial Christians…” “Kids can learn more than we think. Adults can learn less than we would hope. We consistently underestimate what kids are capable of learning and overestimate what adults will learn. Kids still ask questions; grown ups stop asking questions.” The author doesn’t say, but doesn’t this imply something breaks down when adults are teaching Children about God?

■ The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) holds a Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. “Influencing a nation to modify its behavior or change its laws is difficult. Yet that is what we seek to do…Churches have been opened after being shut down because of our persuasive and persistent appeals. Pastors and missionaries have been set free through our personal intervention with a senior government leader. Proposed legislation to curtail religious freedom was not passed, after our personal mediation, and pastors in a closed country felt emboldened and secure to speak up against discrimination because they knew their voice was being relayed in Geneva.”

■ Testimony: “A couple of days after we buried our stillborn baby, God spoke to my wife. It was Krista’s first time returning to the grave after we’d buried Avery. As the van rolled up to the cemetery gate, a song started playing on the radio. Krista sat in the vehicle and listened as the artist declared that God does not abandon us in our sorrow. As she began to cry, the lyrics went on to assure her that God holds our tears. She hadn’t been asking God to speak to her. God’s voice came unexpectedly.” (From the 2019 Thomas Nelson book, Simply Spirit Filled by Andrew K. Gabriel.)

■ It was interesting to see this Christian Post article with Mike Huckabee, which doesn’t use the word ‘transgender’ and then compare it to The Friendly Atheist’s summary of it which lays all the problem of Christianity at the feet of transgendered people. (In fact, I would argue that for balance, you really must read both.)

■ One of the best known missions stories, through which Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian became household names, is revisited in an Oxford University Press volume few of us can afford. The publisher of God in the Rainforest notes that this story of “Protestant missionary work among the Waorani came to be one of the missions most celebrated by Evangelicals and most severely criticized by anthropologists and others who accused missionaries of destroying the indigenous culture.” A career missionary reviewed the book and notes that i “seeks to tell the story of the Waorani from the standpoint of the people themselves, rather than explaining their lives through the eyes of others. They are presented as people with a complex and self-consistent society, in which violence is endemic. Far from being irrational savages, they come across as people like us, albeit living in a situation very unlike our own.”

■ The Early Church knew how to react when violence was the world’s default response.  This article is an exhaustive collection of some classic writings, such as Justin the Martyr: “We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” In a world of violence and terrorism, has the church lost the way of Shalom?

■ A 9-year old boy who died in 1964 had an unusual grasp of human suffering and the suffering of Christ. Pope Francis has decreed Nelson Santana to be recognized as a Saint.

■ Media Watch: The movie After, which opens Friday, has been called a 50 Shades of Gray for teens and tweens.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Should busy pastors spend time and energy in the ‘dumpster fire’ of life in social media?

■ Hebrews 11: The Women-in-Ministry Edition. Your translation may vary.

■ Provocative Statement of the Week: “Instead of church planters, we need church closers.” The writer continues, “Yeah, I know, it sounds awful. But think about it. Those of you who regularly attend church, how many other churches do you pass on your way to your own? I can’t even count, but it’s probably 50. The reality is that most of those can’t even afford to maintain their buildings. They can’t pay their pastor fairly. They are already on the brink of locking their doors for good. Even if they try to deny it, the end is near. Instead of closing as a last resort, let’s be proactive.

🎬 The movie First Reformed: “Ethan Hawke stars as the troubled and reclusive Reverend Ernst Toller. Reeling from the death of his son, Toller is in something of a long, dark night of the soul. He has fewer congregants than tourists passing through his sleepy Dutch Reformed Church. His quiet, collared demeanor couldn’t be more out of place in the bombastic megachurch that helps keep his ministry afloat. His journal is full of searching and scrawling and longing. So when Mary comes to him with her husband’s demand she abort lest their daughter grow up in the ash heap of a world destroyed by climate change, Toller has true and genuine purpose. Maybe for the first time in years.”

■ Israel, David and the cultural artifact known FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

■ After two years in a Turkish prison, Wheaton College alumnus Andrew Brunson and his wife Norene (also a graduate of Wheaton) will speak at the school’s commencement for graduate students in May.

■ Remember that nun who threw that great pitch at the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018? Well, Mary Jo Sobieck has now got her own Topps Baseball trading card.

■ Clear and Loud: What Joshua Harris is doing now.

■ Only 10 Presidents in 133 years: A year after the controversy surrounding J. Paul Nyquist, Mark Jobe is installed as the new sheriff at Moody Bible Institute.

■ Congratulations: D.W. is 103 and Willie is 100. The Charlotte, North Carolina couple has been married 82 years. “They do make it to church every Sunday, in the front pew at Mayfield Memorial Baptist… All they have is love for each other and God.”

■ This isn’t exactly current, but for years I tried to find the album so that I could post this to my own YouTube channel. Apparently, someone got this online last fall. It’s Christian author and one-time cutting-edge CCM performer in the UK, Sheila Walsh singing with UK 80s rocker Alvin Stardust.

■ This is so 1997: A priest in Northern Poland burned Harry Potter books. However, now he’s apologizing in case anyone took it the wrong way. (How do you misinterpret a book burning?)

🎬 Don’t forget the animated version of Pilgrim’s Progress is in theaters for only two days, April 18th and 20th.

■ Just a week after being banned by a Texas airport, Chick-fil-A has been banned from opening at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. A spokesperson for the restaurants said, “Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand. We do not have a political or social agenda or discriminate against any group. More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand…We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

■ A Pastor’s alleged affair has left him dead, his wife injured, and another woman facing murder charges.

■ Reddit of the Week: “Are you a Christian?” It’s like asking, “Are you Chinese?” There are many different ways of interpreting the question, and many differences which would be involved in determining how someone might answer.

♫ Looks like the people at Bethel Worship have discovered some Christian music that existed before theirs.

♫ Months after its release, the song from Canada’s Dan Bremnes, Wherever I Go, is breaking into the U.S market.

■ American Jesus: “It has finally happened. After nearly a decade of futility, Jesus has finally won the tournament that bears his name. I would say Shane Claiborne put up a valiant fight, but Jesus smelled the blood in the water. He finally made it to the championship match and he wasn’t going to miss his shot. He threw all that humility and first shall be last stuff to the wind and laid down a 99% to 1% beating that would make even Satan himself shake in his boots.”

■ “On this coming Easter, many will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by going to church and having a family dinner. A group in the Philippines has a more literal interpretation of the holiday.Numerous Filipino Catholics will be crucifying and beating themselves in the same way that Jesus was punished by the Romans. At least seven will have nails driven through their hands and several will cut their backs and beat themselves in order to represent the pain felt by Jesus during the crucifixion.” The Roman Catholic church does not recognize the practice nor does it encourage trying this at home.

■ Finally: If you had some weirdness in your denominational history, would you not want to hush it up? The Church of England might. Consider: “He lived quite openly with his mistress, and his love of eating and drinking to excess was common knowledge. [Thomas] Patten would deliberately preach long and dull sermons that would continue until someone in the congregation held up a lemon – a sign that they would buy the Vicar his drinks for the evening.”  Or how about, “Ian Henry Gaunt Graham-Orlebar discerned that it was his particular ministry to live a life that was self-consciously retro… A keen equestrian since his boyhood, [he] decided that, in homage to the dignified clergy of old, he would conduct all visits on horseback.” But we saved the best for the last…

[This guy deserves his own paragraph.] …Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker was a profoundly weird individual. As Curate at Bude, he decided that he had a joint calling; not only to be a Priest, but also a mermaid. In order to live out this vocation, he fashioned a wig out of seaweed and, naked apart from an oilskin wrapped around his legs, rowed out to a rock in Bude harbour one evening, sat on it and began to sing…He kept a sizeable menagerie, including ten cats (who would follow him to church and routinely made up the majority of his congregation). However, he reacted with fury when he saw one catching a mouse on a Sunday and publicly excommunicated it in front of his other animals.” And we didn’t even get to the parish pig.


Our ministry of database corrections: A different reason why misgendering should be a crime! We find some stupid error like this at @Christianbook every few days. Sometimes we tell them, sometimes we shrug our shoulders. They really should get to know their authors better. Especially Templeton Prize winning authors.

 

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April 8, 2019

Credit Where Credit is Due

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, ministry, testimony — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This dog also led Kevin to Jesus. Source Café Press.

It’s always interesting when people you know from a fairly fixed context show up at a funeral for someone you knew from a fairly different fixed context.

“How did you know Kevin;” I asked.

“Actually, I led him to the Lord.” It happened in the town park, apparently.

Later in the funeral service itself, a speaker who had been previously scheduled got up to pay tribute to Kevin and explained how he met him at his apartment through a mutual friend, and as they talked about different things, he led him to the Savior.

After the service was over, a woman who I’ve known for years explained how she had led Kevin to to the Lord on a bus in which they were both travelling.

I wanted to ask her if she’d even been listening to the man who had spoken one of the tributes, but decided not to go there. I’ve run into her since and she certainly affirms her version of things.

My wife said later that Kevin had a ministry to people who had the gift of evangelism.

(Think about it.)

I have no doubt now as to Kevin’s eternal state. He certainly met the Lord on many occasions and accepted him as Lord on an equal number.

I mean why would anyone lie about a story like that?

 

April 6, 2019

Press ‘D’ for Depression

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, health, personal, weather, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

The result of an image search for depression: This one seemed to sum it up best.

I haven’t been writing much here these last few weeks. The ideas come — sometimes I don’t write them down — and the computer beckons, but I either don’t write, or prioritize other writing, such as our devotional blog which continues to grow.

I’ve never been diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m still fairly certain that the textbook definition, which you can read about here, is not applicable. If those symptoms do apply however, be sure to seek help.

In my life depression has always been circumstantial. Change the circumstances, I’ve told myself (and God) and my outlook on life will change along with it.

As a result, I’ve tended to be judgmental or dismissive of those whose depression, not otherwise diagnosed as genetic, or chemical, or the result of family history, seems to be circumstantial like mine.

So you can imagine my response to Seasonal Affective Disorder, the acronym for which is, quite appropriately, SAD.

‘Spring is coming,’ I will say to myself and others, ‘Just a few more weeks and we’ll be basking in sunshine.’

But then this winter never ended. Spring never seemed to arrive. We changed to Daylight Saving Time but the environment missed the memo.

As I write this, on April 6th, a warmer day is forecast for my part of Ontario, but there are still clumps of ice by my front door (which is in shade) and at the end of my driveway. I can see some neighbors houses with some packed snow (caused by snow ploughing) which hasn’t fully melted.

There was no January thaw this year.

Our week in the Caribbean was literally over far too soon.

And no matter what scientists tell you, living in Canada as we do, we are convinced that 0°C is definitely much colder than 32°F.

Furthermore, we’re not compelled by family traditions or a hyper business-driven economy to be on the road when common sense dictates otherwise. Americans simply risk limb and life to get the family — or the packages — where they need to be. Canadians stay home where it’s safe and pour another bowl of chicken soup.

No wonder I feel sad. Correction: No wonder I feel SAD.

Then last week I got sick. Like many of our friends, we held our heads high saying, “I haven’t been sick all winter.” But then, as March was giving way to April, our bodies simply ran out of immunity before the weather ran out of cruelty. (“Forget this” was my immune system’s exact words.) After directing my physician yesterday to issue a more powerful degree of opioids [Note: This could foreshadow another column in about three months*] I finally got a few good hours of sleep last night.

Sleep is good. Sleep is needful. Sleep also wards of depression.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

So yes, like the guy in the John 5 story, I wish to get well. I want a sunny day, chasing the clouds away. I want to be walking on sunshine. I want joy, I want fun, I want seasons in the sun. (See, the codeine isn’t affecting me at all.)

I want a week of this (about 93°F for you non-metric laggards; 0 mm of rainfall is very approximately 0 inches of rainfall):

If the drugs don’t work, I may be forced to try chocolate.


*The opioid crisis is real. So why doesn’t my computer’s spell-check know the word? How can so many systems in my computer be updating so often, but the machine’s basic dictionary not know a word defining an urgent medical crisis in the First World? Anyway, I didn’t want anyone to think I was treating this lightly. If you know someone still taking the pills, or cough syrup, or whatever; long after the illness has left, they have a problem and need to seek help.

April 3, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Part of our reason-for-being here is to bring you links to items you might not have seen elsewhere, but there were three stories which dominated Christian social media, so in case you missed them:

First, there was no escaping Twitter’s “accidental” shutdown of the account for the movie Unplanned. The powerful film, tells the story of Abby Johnson who went from abortion clinic administrator to vociferous foe of Planned Parenthood after witnessing an abortion. The movie, in a limited number of theaters on the weekend placed fifth, despite whatever happened at Twitter.

Second, there is the strange case of Sam Allberry. Whether you use the term ‘gay’ to describe him, or simply same-sex attracted; there’s nothing new about his views within the big tent of Evangelicalism. What is different is the endorsement he receives among the Reformed/Calvinist community whose views you would expect to be ultra-conservative.

The same goes for Doug Wills. The Calvinists regard him as one of theirs, but there is no denying his use of the c-word to describe women is over the top. But T4G-ers and TGC-ers have a history of forgiving the unforgivable, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Now, on to the rest of the day’s items…

■ “Based on the Impossible True Story.” If you only click one link today, take 2½ minutes to watch the trailer for the movie Breakthrough, opening Easter weekend. (It might be just what you need.)

■ Christian bookstores are not all dead. The Parable chain speaks out, explaining the difference between independent franchises and the type of corporate stores which went under last week and in 2017.

■ It’s not just a Christian issue: “The leading liberal Orthodox rabbinical school told a gay student it will not ordain him, only months before his graduation, the Jewish Week reported. The decision is being widely interpreted as a sign of just how far Modern Orthodoxy, which blends strict observance with progressive social values, is willing to go in adopting pro-LGBTQ stances.” But here’s the thing: The school knew about his orientation for nearly four years.

■ A call for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to revoke a degree for character issues. He was 25. She was 16. When she was 20, she realized what had been done to her.

■ Your small(er) church may not offer the programs and facilities of the megachurch next to the freeway, but there are five things that you simply must offer.

■ Vocational Ministry: The cry of many pastors, “It would be nice to go to a funeral and grieve.”

■ “You’re born looking like your parents, but you die looking like your decisions.” – A very short video clip on the issue of absentee fathers which is an epidemic in the black community.

■ Shutting down Protestant theological education in the Soviet Union: “The Pentecostal Union’s Eurasian Theological Seminary’s licence was annulled in October 2018 after inspectors questioned its theology course. The Baptist Union’s Moscow Theological Seminary was suspended for 60 days from January 2019, and banned from admitting new students.”

♫ Must listening: Found this preparing content for my other blog. Wanna hear something really different? It was posted back in 2014. This is an arrangement of Psalm 104 from Psalm Project Africa. (Love how they pass the lyrics back and forth.)

♫ Something more recent? This Passion song was featured at North Point Community Church on Sunday and Andy Stanley alluded to it in the sermon.
“…So I stop all negotiations
With the God of all creation
‘Cause you’re bigger than I thought you were…”

■ Speaking of music; if you want to be really clear on the difference between contemporary Christian music in the 1970s and 80s, you should start your investigation studying the music of Keith Green. “As my wife and I listened to Green’s music, we were struck by how strange his late 1970s lyrics sounded to our 2019 ears…CTR songs are sometimes hard to listen to.”

■ Freedom of Speech isn’t enshrined in Canada as it is in the U.S. This Vancouver story shows something like the “misgenerding” we reported on a few weeks ago with a UK story. “…For example, if you call a trans woman a “biological male” in Canada, that statement about DNA can be construed as hate speech, which is what led to a Christian activist getting fined $55,000.”

■ The eight beatitudes in Matthew 5 contain seven promises. “The blessings do not contain any imperative verb forms but use indicative statement verbs. As such, the Beatitudes come to God’s people as divine promises showcasing Jesus’ authority and the nature of the kingdom of God. While describing characteristics of God’s people to show them what they will experience in this life, Christ is also pronouncing God’s favor upon his people, the citizens of his kingdom.”

■ Getting to know the Bible better: It wasn’t written to you; even though the words may appear to be reaching out to make a personal connection. 6-minute video podcast with a little Belinda Carlisle thrown in.   

■ Archaeology Alley: Could this temple relic be proof of King Josiah?

■ The ultimate listicle article title: 7 Ways Not to Sin. We don’t have the power to get rid of sin but we do have the power to limit its influence. You’re holding the remote control.

♫ “I Can’t Feed my Face” is a parody of a similarly-titled song by The Weeknd. Next time the family is all together for a meal, sing grace. (Or this one, for the Coldplay fans.)

■ Popular Charismatic prophecy author Jonathan Cahn has another new title releasing in September, The Oracle. The book takes on a rather huge mandate, promising that it “opens up the jubilean prophecies and a mystery so big that it has determined everything from the rise and fall of world empires to two world wars, the current events of our day, the future, end‐time prophecy and much more. Ultimately, The Oracle will reveal the secret that lies behind end‐time prophecy and the mystery of the end of the age.

■ Bible Publishing Curiosities Department: The Bible in split-screen, in the 18th Century. (Also shown below.) 

■ Personal: My son is helping out a Catholic choir on Sunday mornings. There are two services. Should he take communion twice?

■ An article for the people of God, even though he’s never mentioned: NBC shares a report where scientists say experiencing awe — or what we could call the transcendent — helps you to live a better, richer life, both in terms of well being and physical health.

Each week I prepare this, one of my goals is to give you clean links. References to sources or newsletters I may subscribe to are removed and you receive the URL in its cleanest, simplest form. (Facebook is the worst, the numbers after the ? go on forever.) Some links are suggested by third parties, and every once in awhile I miss one. If you find a case where I’ve neglected to do that, let me know.

■ The next big Christian debate frontier: Leggings. “The only thing people like more than wearing leggings is getting mad about leggings.”

■ The pastor bought his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini for their anniversary and they were living in a $1.8 million home paid for by the church. The local media took notice. Then a former pastor visited and announced, “I cut people, I got a knife right in that pocketbook. Greenville News, come on. We done went through this.” The remarks were seen as threatening

■ Finally, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The original and The Message Bible version.


April 1, 2019

A Morning Devoted to Un-Truths

This weekend I’ve been cross-posting articles from Christianity 201, as that blog begins year ten today. It seemed only fitting to go back one last time for this article, appropriate to April Fool’s Day.

For much of the morning, in some parts of the world, people made (or are still making) outrageous, preposterous or untrue statements; waited a few seconds; followed by, “April Fools!” No doubt online there were false news stories, manipulated photos, and skillfully edited videos. In most cases, nobody gets hurt and everyone has enjoys having their gullibility quotient tested.

I don’t want to go so far as to say that Christians should never enjoy a good prank, but it’s important that this never defines us.

In Matthew 5:37 we read,

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The context is about swearing oaths, but in The Message Bible, the definition is widened:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

The entire passage is paralleled in James 5:12

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

Wikipedia notes how these verses impacted one Christian sect:

Quakers place importance on being truthful at all times, so the testimony opposing oaths springs from a view that “taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness” suggesting that truthfulness in legal contexts is somehow more important than truthfulness in non-legal contexts and that truthfulness in those other contexts is therefore somehow less important.

But by refusing to take an oath, many were imprisoned. The article also noted some of the variances we encounter today:

  • I swear on my mother’s life
  • I swear on my grandmother’s grave

The idea is that we are promising something that is precious to us to demonstrate sincerity. I didn’t grow up around people who use these expressions, but to be honest (pun intended) I often wonder that people who feel the need to add this might be the ones most likely not telling the truth.

This passage also means more than just whether or not we can be trusted when we make a statement, it’s also about whether or not we can be trusted when we make a promise. My wife and I often joke that we’ve spent a measurable percentage of our lives waiting for people who said they would arrive somewhere at a certain time. Before we even got married, I noticed that my wife was extremely punctual, and I’ve always hated being late and keeping people waiting. But often others find it easy to say they will be somewhere at a certain time and then think nothing of arriving a half hour later (and we’re not talking about being fashionably late to a large party or gathering.)

For the Christian, decision-making can be extra-complicated, as we desire to submit everything, big and small, to God’s will. But if commit to something, if we agree to do something or be somewhere, then we need to honor our commitments and agreements.

Freelance writer Fiona Soltes writes,

There’s much to be said for being a person of integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do. There’s even more to be said, however, for being a person who carefully considers decisions with God’s input and sticks to those decisions once they’re made. God is, after all, the same yesterday, today and forever. If we are to be like Him, we must show ourselves faithful and dependable, as well.

Jered Bridges commented on this passage in the context of living in a world filled with hidden cameras. He noted our ultimate accountability is not to the people we make promises to, but rather…

Proverbs 5:21 warns that, “…a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” (ESV) Ultimately it matters not if there’s a hidden camera watching you —- the eyes of the Lord penetrate far further than a grainy twenty-frames-per-second camera could ever go. It is in the healthy fear of those eyes that we should accordingly adjust our conduct.


~PW (2014, C201)

 

March 31, 2019

The Kingdom of God Bearing Fruit; Regardless of Who is In Charge

This weekend wraps up the ninth year of Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201. Tomorrow (Monday) marks the beginning of year ten. My goal with C201, God willing, is to do what I did here: Ten years of daily content without missing a day,

I wanted to bring readers here a taste of what happens there. These articles (yesterday and today) are being cross-posted with what’s running there.

Col 1 : 10( NIV) …live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

Balanced Christian LifeA tree might look healthy because it is leafy green, but if its purpose is to bear fruit, all that greenery counts for nothing.

As true as that principle is, it’s also possible for one person to be the planter, or the pruner; while someone else entirely reaps the harvest or collects the fruit.

One of the frustrations of online ministry is you don’t always get a lot of feedback; neither do you see the people who are being influenced by what is posted each day. Statistics report that several hundred people land at Christianity 201 each day, but I have no idea if the readings are helpful; if they like the videos; if they enjoyed checking out a particular writer’s website.

It’s also possible that many readers find a website which especially resonates with them and end up making that their daily habit instead of this. Of course, that result was built into the design of C201. There is so much Christian writing available; some of it relates more to intellectuals than those less educated; some to women more than men; some to people of certain denominational persuasions more than others.

I was reminded today of this passage in I Corinthians 3:

…4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it…

(continue reading full chapter in the NLT)

Matthew Henry writes:

…Both [people, i.e. Paul and Apollos] were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. Note, God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. Note, The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing: Neither he that plants is any thing, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3:7. Even apostolic ministers are nothing of themselves, can do nothing with efficacy and success unless God give the increase. Note, The best qualified and most faithful ministers have a just sense of their own insufficiency, and are very desirous that God should have all the glory of their success. Paul and Apollos are nothing at all in their own account, but God is all in all…

We know a lot about Paul, but when we connect the dots of scripture, we actually know a lot about Apollos as well.ChristianAnswers.net tells us:

This is the name of a Jew “born at Alexandria,” a man well versed in the Scriptures and eloquent (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus (about A.D. 49), where he spoke “boldly” in the synagogue (18:26), although he did not know as yet that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Aquila and Priscilla instructed in “the way of God”, i.e., in the knowledge of Christ. He then proceeded to Corinth, where he met Paul (Acts 18:27; 19:1). He was very useful there in watering the good seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 1:12), and bringing many to Christ. His disciples were very attached to him (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22). He was with Paul at Ephesus when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Paul makes kind reference to him in his letter to Titus (3:13). (Scripture reference links are KJV.)

One of our former pastors would constantly say, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” In today’s world, it also takes all types of websites, blogs and forums to reach out to an internet-wired world. But as I write this, it’s true that I often long to hear reports of the fruit of this ministry in the lives of readers.

I believe strongly that while we all may be instrumental in the discipleship process of people in our sphere of influence, we should also be know the joys of being reapers of the fruit of ministry. We should all experience Paul-Timothy mentoring relationships. We should all know what it means to reproduce ourselves in the lives of others and even the next generation.

Furthermore, we see Jesus’ attitude toward fruit-bearing ministry in Matthew 21’s story of the fig tree:

18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (NLT)

Ask yourself: Are my efforts for the Kingdom of God bearing fruit, or just putting out leaves?

~PW

 

March 30, 2019

Placing the Interests of the Other Person Above Your Own

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:00 am

This weekend wraps up the ninth year of Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201. Monday marks the beginning of year ten. My goal with C201, God willing, is to do what I did here: Ten years of daily content without missing a day,

Today I wanted to bring readers here a taste of what happens there. These articles (today and tomorrow) are being cross-posted with what’s running there.

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

I originally wrote this when several different people we knew were facing the anniversary of a loss. I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 into an email and sent it to one such family. I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to come.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism. We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one. We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

It totally flies in the face of the Western mindset of individualism.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s now common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with. We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario: A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions where each person thinks it’s them that is doing the other person a favor, and it’s not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are trying to let the other person go through a door first.

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

Paul used the analogy of parts of the body, but if he had jigsaw puzzles in his day, he might have said, “The bottom right corner piece of the puzzle cannot say to the middle piece, ‘I don’t need you.'”

The way we show there’s no preference is to prefer the other.

March 27, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Rather surprising: K-LOVE initially wouldn’t promote the pro-life film Unplanned on its 440 radio stations. Click image for story.

Sorry, our run of 50,000 of these t-shirts is all sold out!

I publish this list every Wednesday. If you don’t read it, how will you know all the things? Let your friends know this exists. No books to sell. No newsletter to subscribe to. No pop-ups. Blogging the way God intended it to be.

■ Just perhaps, instead of hearing constantly about how “we’ve defeated ISIS,” it would be fair to show that the battle is not over, i.e. “Christians in Nigeria witnessed another round of bloody attacks last week as Boko Haram terrorists captured the town of Michika in Nigeria’s far eastern state of Adamawa, burning buildings and exchanging fire with government troops.” Similar attacks are also taking place in the Congo.

■ The problem which seems to haunt religious organizations is revealed in yet another faith tribe: ” Jehovah’s Witnesses build what might be the world’s largest database of undocumented child molesters: at least two decades’ worth of names and addresses—likely numbering in the tens of thousands—and detailed acts of alleged abuse, most of which have never been shared with law enforcement, all scanned and searchable in a Microsoft SharePoint file.” Douglas Quenqua’s groundbreaking report in The Atlantic.

■ With the continuing expansion of the clergy abuse investigations, 37% of Roman Catholics are reconsidering their church membership.

■ Spiritual formation in the family: “Christians are far more likely to say their mothers had a bigger influence on their faith than did their fathers, according to a new Barna study that examines the roles that moms and dads play in the development of children.”

Essay of the Week: “Is God the Background for Your Selfie?” An excellent teaching article with a practical illustration; namely that including yourself front-and-center in a picture of something else means turning your back on the object in question.

■ Coming soon to an arena near you: The Benny Hinn/Francis Chan tour! Okay, maybe not quite so literally, but it happen at a 60,000-attended event in Orlando. It’s just not Chan’s usual audience

■ …but it’s easy to see how Chan’s involvement can be construed as endorsement. (Article sample: “Who among us hasn’t done something we realized in hindsight was silly?”)

■ Post-Willow Creek: Looking at the non-denominational megachurch through the lens of what happened to the church which started it all. Maybe denominations aren’t such a bad idea after all.

■ Apples and oranges: Okay we missed this one back in February, but someone pointed us to it yesterday and it’s worth considering. When you compare sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church to sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention; while the actions may be similar, the ecclesiastic structure in general and church governance in particular dictates that the types of responses available will differ greatly.

■ While some U.S. states have moved toward radically liberal policies on abortions, some in other states would like to move their constituency in the opposite direction, such as this proposal banning abortions in the case of Down Syndrome.

■ A week after the massacre at the mosque in New Zealand, the Prime Minister of neighboring Australia admitted that in his country Islam is not well-understood. In an opinion piece, one writer laments the normalization or “ordinariness” of Islamaphobia.

■ Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma was kicked out of Vimeo’s LiveStream program after they streamed a conference which the server found promoted “sexual orientation change efforts.” (There’s even an acronym for that, “SOCE.”) ALL their backlist of sermon content was also removed. Read the terse note they received from Vimeo’s “Trust and Safety” department.

🎬 First, after 20 years of alternative Christian music, K-LOVE changed the format of its sister station Air1 to a worship format. Then it intially refused to promote the pro-life movie Unplanned because of its R-rating. But the story has an update, be sure to read all.

■  Cambridge University has rescinded an offer of a two month research fellowship to Canadian Professor and author Jordan Peterson following complaints from students. Peterson is known for refusing to follow political correctness

■ Behind the scenes at LifeWay: Some of their biggest sellers weren’t profitable. Some of their pension obligations are unfunded. They are the most complicated business entity in the SBC family.

🎹 Planetboom is a next generation edition of Planetshakers. Their first album is titled Jesus Over Everything. This featured song is Everything X Everything. (Not recommended for people over a certain age.)

🎹 An homage to the poem Footprints in the Sand.
“Like that poem that I used to hear
Hanging ‘round everywhere
I used to write if off
Just a picture on a wall…”
…a new song, Footprints by Matt Hammitt. (Not recommended for people under a certain age.)

■ C. S. Lewis believed in Purgatory. And after-death conversion. (So why does the Reformed crowd love him so much.) Equally shocking were beliefs by Luther, Calvin, Moody, Spurgeon, Wesley, Graham, and Augustine. Frank Viola teases us with Lewis, you have to buy his book to read about the rest.

■ James MacDonald took no book royalties from his Walk In The Word sales? Not according to one former employee. (Be sure to click the red section labelled ‘statement’ to open the 2-pg .pdf.)

■ New Word of the Week: Clergypreneur. “Basically, I am like an Uber driver for your spiritual experience…I am not in charge of the congregation, I do not attend their leadership meetings, and I do not represent them. The congregation runs the church, and their ministry keeps it going. They contract with me for my own ministry, where and when it works best for them, and for me.”

■ The governmental body which regulates television in the United States continues to receive complaints from individuals and parent groups concerning its TV ratings system. (We looked at a variant of this problem a few months ago in this article.)

■ Update: Did John MacArthur really have that connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? The story has some (sort of) detractors.

🇨🇦 This story is only available to Canadian readers, and even they aren’t allowed to see it.*

■ Game of Chicken? Liberals will go to any length to castigate the Chick-Fil-A fast food franchise, but in banning them from key locations, municipal legislators may be violating the First Amendment.

This news story is not available in your area.*

■ As of yesterday, American Jesus Madness was down to a final four. Which is a good lead in to our next item!

■ Finally, it was just a typical weekend of worship at Ed Young’s church:

 

 

 


*okay I ran out of time last night

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

March 22, 2019

Of Miry Clay and Wretchedness

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:10 am

Brain flashback…

I remember it being sung in a children’s meeting:

He lifted me up, yes up
Up from the miry clay

We were kids, we played in the dirt and we played with the hose. We knew a thing or two about miry clay. Well, we did and we didn’t. We didn’t use the word miry in everyday speech.

For the adults it was:

From sinking sands he lifted me

Quicksand is something with which most of us do not have direct experience. Sometimes a person who was caught in the throes of addiction will talk about reaching bottom where there was nothing else to do but look up. But for the most part, the analogy of quagmire gets lost on us.

A more contemporary lyric would be

That saved a wretch like me

I remember in youth group we when we were coming up to “me” we would turn and point to the person next to us and sing “him” or “her” instead of “me.” None of us wanted to be the wretch.

The point is, in Western Europe and North America we have it pretty good. We’re comfortable. We enjoy our materialism. We celebrate our excesses on social media. Sin is become as archaic a word as miry clay; we’re comfortable redefining it — “that’s not sex” — as needed.

Nobody is covered in clay anymore, no one is sinking, no one is wretched.

What would anyone need to be saved from?

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