Thinking Out Loud

April 7, 2022

Lessons (Hopefully) Learned from Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel

Living in what the people of Chicagoland call “the northwest suburbs” theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, teacher Laura Barringer had a front row seat when things began unraveling at Harvest Bible Chapel and Willow Creek Community Church, and furthermore were acquainted with many of the people who became a part of our daily Twitter and blog feeds about both stories.

For this writer, the allegations about James MacDonald were hardly surprising, but I was more deeply invested in Bill Hybels, so there I found the greatest shock and disappointment. That the actions of these leaders were both shielded from the parishioners and the general public, and/or softened for public consumption meant that other leaders were culpable as the accusations intensified.

As I pointed out in this article, by the end of 2020, the damage done to the lives and legacies of various church leaders — not just pastors — was devastating and in no way limited to Harvest and Willow. So in writing A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale House, 2020) McKnight and Barringer were not afraid to name names.

This serves as an example of the truth and transparency that they see as just one of the seven marks of what they call “the circle of TOV,” which ought to be a mantra for every church wishing to have a healthy internal governance culture. Before getting there however, the first 80-or-so pages define the problem, and only then do they embark on what I consider the redemptive properties of the book, though they do not, by any means leave the naming of names behind, but continue to address situations that are relevant to each of the seven healthy characteristics they are defining.

It is at that point that some more positive anecdotal content is presented, including some very moving accounts from the late Calvin Miller. And the scriptures. In some chapters, especially the scriptures. (I ran a very brief excerpt from the book at Christianity 201 a few days ago as an example.)

If you get a copy, you need to copy and print an enlargement of their “circle of TOV” and hang it in whatever room your church board/elders meets. It should guide every aspect of the decision-making processes.

So why review a 2020 book now? In publishing marketing and publicity, this isn’t done, but reading Jesus and John Wayne (reviewed here) and The Making of Biblical Womanhood (briefly reviewed here), I simply had to include this one in my personal reading, especially knowing how much it has impacted many church leaders since its release.

(Unfortunately, Tyndale House doesn’t have representation in Canada, so I had to use a borrowed copy, but by mentioning the book here and now for my U.S. readers, I am trying to practice in this situation my own culture of grace and goodness.)

The book also begs the question, ‘Should megachurches even exist?’ Or to say it differently, ‘Was the modern megachurch ever part of God’s plan?” If you’re reading this, and in the middle of a search for a church home (a new church, or you’re looking for the first time) I would strongly suggest looking at churches with 200-500 in attendance (or 100-300 in Canada) as your best options.

With the passage of time since the book’s release, our emphasis now, rather than focusing on what went wrong, should be to look to the future with a vision of local church communities which promote the good, just as God, when he saw all that he had made, said that it was very good.

 

January 23, 2022

How to be a Miserable, Abrasive or Unloving Person

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

A year ago, on my other blog, I decided to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. That chapter again? Can’t we look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

End of digression.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers. Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

Our goal should be that we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ It turned out that wasn’t the first time I’d taken my C201 readers on a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ The Apostle Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

April 26, 2020

The Conflict Waging in our Minds

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Okay, maybe there was one.

Earlier today in an online discussion, I had reason to look something up and rediscovered this summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud between 2011 and 2017 with the blog tag “thought life.”

Each one of the headers below is a link to a larger article. You need to click each to unpack each topic in full.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(again, click the individual headers to see great discussion on each of these…)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… [the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves…

An illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

July 6, 2019

A Humble Self-Opinion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:26 am

A few days ago someone asked online if it was appropriate to ‘like’ their own social media posts. I suggested that it seemed a bit narcissistic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism as, “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance : marked by or characteristic of excessive admiration of or infatuation with oneself.”

In contrast, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” NIV.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:2, “When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” NLT

Back in March I introduced Christianity 201 readers to a reading drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it. Furthermore, it can be read very, very quickly.I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

Having a Humble Opinion of One’s Self

Thomas à Kempis; 1380 – 1471; Wikipedia photo

Everyone has a natural desire for knowledge but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble peasant who serves God is better than the proud astronomer who knows how to chart the heavens’ stars but lacks all knowledge of himself.

If I truly knew myself I would look upon myself as insignificant and would not find joy in hearing others praise me. If I knew everything in the world and were still without charity, what advantage would I have in the eyes of God who is to judge me according to my deeds?

Curb all undue desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.

Whoever sets his mind on anything other than what serves his salvation is a senseless fool. A barrage of words does not make the soul happy, but a good life gladdens the mind and a pure conscience generates a bountiful confidence in God.

The more things you know and the better you know them, the more severe will your judgment be, unless you have also lived a holier life. Do not boast about the learning and skills that are yours; rather, be cautious since you do possess such knowledge.

If it seems to you that you know many things and thoroughly understand them all, realize that there are countless other things of which you are ignorant. Be not haughty, but admit your ignorance. Why should you prefer yourself to another, when there are many who are more learned and better trained in God’s law than you are? If you are looking for knowledge and a learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing.

This is the most important and most salutary lesson: to know and to despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state.

We are all frail; but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.

 

 

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

 

December 21, 2018

When Doctrine Overrides Character

Not everyone is on Twitter, and not everything people post on Twitter is appropriate for the theme of their blog. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, etc. — when someone has posted a longer string that we feel is of great importance and deserving of a wider readership, I want to give you a chance to read something that author Sheila Wray Gregoire* posted to Twitter two days ago.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time denouncing pastors who have done horrendous things? I have an off-the-wall theory, and I’d like to share it in this thread.

Two incidences this week: Tim Keller offered George Whitefield, the man largely responsible for the legalization of slavery in 18th Century Georgia, as someone to emulate; and Harvest Bible Chapel elders and members continue to support James MacDonald, despite credible accusations of spiritual abuse.

We are told “we can’t judge” and “we all have our failings.” But most of all “He’s such a great preacher!” We live in an age where preaching and doctrine reign, and anyone who has the correct doctrine must therefore be a staunch Christian. Yet is this biblical? Let’s take a look.

In Jane Austen’s time, the phrase “Christian charity” was common. It was our love that distinguished us from others. In those days, pretty much everybody “believed” the same thing. What showed that you were a true believer was if you actually lived it out.

Things have changed. First, few believe today. But church trends also elevated belief over practice. [Billy] Graham’s crusades, though amazing, gave the impression that if one said the sinner’s prayer, one would always be right with God. Graham himself lamented the lack of discipleship.

Neo-Calvinism elevated doctrine over anything else, and a church’s preaching became key to its reputation. Then politics fused with Christianity. Christianity became synonymous with a certain viewpoint in the world, cementing the idea that it was about beliefs, not practice.

Today, if you were to ask someone what a Christian was, they would echo, “someone who believes X and Y.” The idea of “Christian charity” being our distinguishing characteristic has largely gone by the wayside.

Yet what does the Bible say? Jesus said they would know us by our love. James said faith without works is dead. Works do not save us; but works show that we truly are saved. Many people believe the Christian tenets and preach Christian doctrine for entirely the wrong reasons.

Paul admitted this—some preach Christ out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 1:15). James said that even the demons believe—and shudder. A person can preach excellent sermons and write amazing books, but that says little about whether they have the Spirit of Christ in them.

Yes, God saves us through our belief in the saving work of Christ. But what makes our faith REAL is that it changes us. Until the church stops idolizing the person who simply preaches an amazing sermon and teaches the right doctrine, we will never get back to the heart of Christ.

If the gospel does not change how you act—if it does not affect your view of marginalized people; if it does not make it unthinkable to yell at a restaurant server; if it does not compel you to give—then ask yourself if you are believing for the wrong reasons.

And then tremble.

To read reactions and responses from Sheila, click this Twitter link.


*Sheila Wray Gregoire is a published author with Zondervan, Kregel and Waterbrook Press and is a featured speaker at women’s events. Her blog deals with marriage, family and parenting issues and is called To Love Honor and Vaccum.

 

December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… 

[the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

November 25, 2017

When Christians Presume Upon Your Good Nature

The article which appeared here on the weekend is currently being suspended as the story has taken an unexpected turn which is hopefully leading to resolution.  I don’t usually pull back stories — if it happened, it happened — but in the spirit I sensed coming through several emails this morning from two different people,  I don’t wish to leave negative publicity online. The party concerned did not request this; I’m doing this of my own accord.

October 8, 2017

Being Good While Being Yourself

For several years Clarke Dixon has been a regular writer at our sister blog, Christianity 201. A year ago he wrote a piece about Islam just for readers here, and a few times we’ve cross-posted material from C201, such as this one about cremation, or this one about the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Two weeks ago, I accidentally formatted one of his C201 posts here and decided you were probably meant to read it. So without further introduction…


by Clarke Dixon

“Just be yourself!”

This is a message often heard in today’s society. “Be authentic, be genuine, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to change!” The Christian message seems to be the exact opposite with the instruction “be transformed” (Romans 12:2), a call to repentance, and testimonies of changed lives. It seems like acceptance of who you are clashes with needing change. Which is the better path? Romans 12:9-21 will help us figure this out.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHARACTER.

Notice that there is no call to change one’s personality in Romans 12. A change in character is what is called for. This is not a change in identity, so that you are no longer authentically you, but a change in character, so that you are a better you. I am, and have always been, a quiet, shy person. The Lord did not ask me to become a naturally outgoing person when He called me to follow Christ.

We want to be careful here not to mix up personality traits with character traits and so miss an opportunity for growth. For example, many people describe themselves as being impatient people, as if impatience were a mark of their personality and something that cannot change. However, anything that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23) is something God can and will help us change. As we sort out which of our “quirks” are personality traits that make us unique, and which are sins that keep us from being like Christ, let us remember that being a Christian is not a call away from authenticity, but a call to character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT OUR MINDS BEING RENEWED (BUT NOT REMOVED) BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul is fleshing out 12:1,2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word behind “renew” has the idea of “making new again”. It is not a complete replacement, but rather a renovation. To renovate a home is a very different thing from demolishing it to build a completely different home. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and Paul. There is nothing to make us suspect that their personalities changed from before they knew Christ to after. We do see them change in very important ways, but they are still very much Peter and Paul. They are still very unique individuals. Discipleship in the Christian life is not like assimilation into the Borg in Star Trek, but rather becoming more like Jesus in our character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT RESPONDING TO THE TEACHING OF JESUS.

Romans 12:9-21 feels familiar. These are things that Jesus taught about, and demonstrated in his own life. It begins with love in verse 9: “Let love be genuine”. It includes non-retaliation, putting into practice turning the other cheek, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated. Someone might point out here that Jesus taught that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow. Does that not mean giving up our individuality? In calling us to pick up our cross and follow, Jesus was not calling upon us to give up our identity as being unique in the universe, but to give up a desire to be the centre of the universe. In doing so, you will still be very much you, with all your quirks that make you interesting and unique. But you will be a better you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOOD OVER EVIL

All of Romans 12:9-21 is framed by the the opportunity to choose good over evil as reflected in verses 9 and 21: “… hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. This is where “just be yourself” does not actually work. Such a sentiment must always be qualified. In watching the Emmy’s recently I did not hear anyone say anything like “Isn’t it wonderful how Donald Trump is comfortable in his own skin? Isn’t it great that he is just being himself?”. No one is saying that about Kim Jong-un either. At the end of the day, all people want everyone else to be good and not evil. All people want others, if they insist on being themselves, to be their better selves. Unfortunately, most people want to go with their own definitions of good and evil. However, the Christian life leads us to God’s definitions of good and evil, plus God’s empowerment to choose to do good rather than evil.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL.

Romans 12:2 does not say “no longer be conformed to your own identity” but “do not be conformed to this age”. Simply put, be yourself, but be your better self, and so stick out like a sore thumb. Those who live the kinds of lives that reflect Romans 12:9-21 will surely do so.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING SALT AND LIGHT IN SOCIETY.

While there is disagreement on how to get there, people naturally long for a better society. Romans 12:9-12 gives some very practical ways of getting there. Just imagine the impact if people were to live like these verses describe. The effect of a renewed mind is much better than the effect of being conformed to the current age. As our relationship with Christ leads to our minds being renewed, people will take notice. How could anyone not respond positively to genuine love (verse 9), hospitality (verse 13), being blessed instead of being cursed (verse 14), care for the downtrodden (verse 15), non-retaliation (verses 17 and following), and being with people who are peaceable (verse 18)? We should note here that we are to think on “what is noble in the sight of all” (verse17). The world is watching, even longing for, a changed people to show the way.

CONCLUSION

Society does not actually say “just be yourself”, it says “be yourself, unless we don’t like you, or there is something about you we think should change”. Jesus says I love you, no matter what you are currently like. I have already demonstrated that love by bearing the cross for you”. Now that is true acceptance, and by Someone whose acceptance of us really matters! When you experience acceptance by God, get ready to be changed, not that you are no longer you, but that you are a better you. Not only are you transformed by the renewing of your mind, but the world around you will begin changing for the better too. So be yourself! But be a God-filled changing-in-great-ways self!


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