Thinking Out Loud

April 9, 2015

Spiritual Recidivism: Returning to the Old Haunts, Old Friends, Old Ways

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually ‘learn’ sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them.

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

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Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

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March 4, 2015

Wednesday Link List

 

Read the screen carefully: The modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Read the screen carefully: Some who are part of the modern Evangelical religious establishment probably wish this is how the text read.

Don’t forget to read the short-takes following the featured links…

Sundays are Still the Worst – A year ago here we linked to a website dedicated to stories of servers in restaurants who are forced to deal with an influx of church-goers whose behavior is abominable. Sundays Are The Worst still gets submissions, but this recent one shows in great detail what all this looks like from the other side. ” I wasn’t expecting a tip, but I also didn’t expect any of the nasty notes (calling me a whore, slut, telling me I’m ugly and too stupid to do anything besides serving, that I was incompetent, that I was going to hell, etc.) from the women. Some of them even finished off their notes by stating that they’d “pray for me to better myself.” But the icing on the cake? The notes from the husbands of three of the women who left their phone numbers for me. This was the experience that ended it for me. In tears, I collected all of the notes, finished clearing up the table, went to my manger and showed him the notes, and told him that I quit, and that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Essay of the Week: Tradition vs. Nostalgia – “Michael Spencer, having been rooted in Baptist traditions in the American South, used to write just as strongly about churches that were little more than memorials to the ‘good old days’ of the post-war era, when people wore suits and dresses to church, sang the ‘old hymns’ (actually, fairly recent revivalistic gospel hymns), filled age-graded Sunday School classes, heard ‘real preaching’ from the King James Version, and went forward for the invitation. Lots of good in all that, I’m sure. But Michael had seen how wistfulness for all that had killed churches dead. Real dead.”

You Should Feel Like a Room Without a Roof – “I am increasingly convinced that Christianity is an inherently optimistic – and even happy – faith. Now I get it, even as I make that assumption more than a few of you are objecting to it. Your objections are most likely rooted in your view of the depravity of humanity, or your eschatology that believes some level of impending doom is imminent. It also might be true that you know of human suffering – particularly the suffering of other believers who live under regimes and find themselves at the wrong end of the wrath of various non-believers. I won’t contest any of those realities, but I still contend that our faith ought to be optimistic.”

Well Remembered but not Remembered Well – The FBI released 250 pages of documents relating to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. On the one hand, “Multiple FBI bulletins describe Phelps as ‘keenly aware of what his rights and limitations are… He and his followers carry a video camera with them to film those who attempt to stop them from demonstrating.'” On the other hand, “The feds also suspected they were dealing with a mental case, according to a 1987 document that stated: ‘[Fred] Phelps was felt by office of origin to be in need of psychiatric care as a result of persons interviewed claimed Phelps to be irrational.'”

Creating Environments for Sex Abuse Recovery – Responding to past article here at Leadership Journal: “In more than a decade of research, almost every article I’ve come across addressing sex offenders in church communities reveals pastors and leaders focusing exclusively on the sex offenders—the theological grounds for their presence, the church’s obligation to care for them, how to support them, how to monitor them, how to protect ministries from potential lawsuits due to their presence, and so on… But offenders are not the only ones in need of a welcome in our churches. Too often when victims/survivors are considered, it is offender focused. Survivors are told they are required to forgive or reconcile with offenders… we must find true empathy for victims/survivors and how sexual abuse has affected them.”

Definitely Not a Midweek Service – A look at a church in Syracuse, NY which holds one of its weekend services on Thursday night: “I started our Early Weekend Service (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.) because I realized what a huge need there was for it.  A third of the American workforce works on the weekend. At least 60% of families with children between the ages of 6 – 17 participate in organized sports, with many of those having weekend events. We are located in an area where a large number of people have camps/vacation homes that affect their attendance during the summer. Throw in both parents working and chores to be done, lawns to be mowed and families just wanting to spend time together, and church on the weekend wasn’t always making it on the calendar.”

Religion and America’s Top Office – “There are arguments for and against our need to know what presidential aspirants believe… Not so long ago, it was enough for most Americans that our culture’s vibrant religious traditions fostered personal morality, civic virtue, public-spiritedness and a commitment to the common good. We expected our presidents to adhere to some faith, but few were obsessed with parsing out his views on specific doctrines…The trouble with making presidents’ religiosity just another weapon in our ongoing ideological war is that we may have ruined religion for presidents themselves.”

Kids, Death and Funerals – The author of this piece notes that, “the biggest segment of disenfranchised grievers are children. Children are disenfranchised for two reasons: their parents haven’t confronted death on a personal level and have become so frightened of it that their natural reaction is to shield their children from the perceived “monster of death.”  And two, parents simply repeat the evasive cliches and religious euphemisms they’ve been taught, leaving kids to believe that the deceased is just “sleeping” or “gone to be with the angels.” Cliches act as an unintentional defense mechanism that often keep the children from full death confrontation and thus grief.” He then offers ten ways to involve the children.

Does This Make Me Look Pious? – “Luma [Simms] opens saying that one of the reasons that she converted to Roman Catholicism was so she could wear a mantilla. She states, ‘The mantilla is a lace veil women have worn over their heads while worshipping God since the time of the New Testament Church.’ But was it? While women did wear head coverings in the New Testament Church, the mantilla is a more recent, fashionable custom that originated from Spain and seems to have made its way into the west around the 1960’s. Women in the New Testament church were not wearing lace.”

The Moral Neutrality of Mathematics – “Surely there’s one thing Christians and atheists can agree on—math. Like dirt and rocks, it’s not good or bad—it’s just a tool. 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what you believe. You don’t need the Bible to appreciate and use tools properly . . . right? I’ve often heard Christians, even Christian teachers, say that some aspects of our lives, such as math, are just tools, neither good nor bad. No “Christian perspective” is required to fully understand and use them…The argument that math is neutral like rocks ignores the fact that God called all creation, even the rocks, good when He created them on the third day…”

No, no, no! It's Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee An, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples' names matter.

No, no, no! It’s Omartian. No apostrophe. And pronounced Oh-MAR-Tee-In, not like little green men from Ireland. Peoples’ names matter.

If you’re reading this on its release day, Wednesday March 5th, don’t forget that tonight is the opening night of a very limited run for The Drop Box movie in major U.S. and Canadian cities.

Short Takes:

There is absolutely no reason for Mark "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" Gungor's picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn't he?

There is absolutely no reason for Mark “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” Gungor’s picture to be here. But he does make you want to smile, doesn’t he? Watch the podcast at markgungorshow.com

March 3, 2015

First Person Faith

B. J. Stockman

This first ran here three years ago under the title “A New Type of Bible Translation” It was produced by B. J. Stockman and appeared as a guest post at another blog that is now dormant.  Stockman called the concept “Preaching to Yourself” and it involved taking a chapter of an epistle and re-interpreting it in the first person, so that instead of it being Paul writing to a first century church, it’s me making a declaration to live out the things Paul is teaching. You might want to pause here and read his introduction to the first chapter.

I had already posted a link to the original introduction and first chapter of Galatians, when I decided to share it in our family Bible study evening that night using the section of chapter three I had posted at Christianity 201, and also reading the original text from my NIV Study Bible. What amazed me was how this reconstruction of the text served as commentary; how much it brought the text to life.

I thought I would allow you to look at Galatians chapter five in parallel.

ORIGINAL TEXT – NIV
Freedom in Christ

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


FIRST PERSON


  • Jesus set me free. Therefore I will not submit to any “yokes” of slavery that are add-on’s to the Gospel no matter how spiritual they may seem. My freedom hinges on Jesus’ work—nothing else. (5:1)
  • I will stand firm in the Gospel. My right-standing before God is due to Jesus not something that I do or don’t do. I stand firm in Christ not self. I know that love for the Gospel will breed humble Christ-confidence not prideful self-confidence in my life. (5:1)
  • I recognize that if I receive something else besides Jesus, like circumcision, to increase my spiritual standing before God Jesus is no benefit to me. The benefits of the Gospel come from Jesus alone. (5:2)
  • When I receive religious traditions and law as well as the person of Jesus, I place myself under obligation to keep the whole law. In light of this, I trust Jesus and thus reject everything else as a means to finding favor with God. (5:3)
  • I know that seeking justification from law is falling from grace. Falling from grace isn’t so much a direct rejection of Jesus, but an indirect acceptance of anything else besides Jesus to make me right with God. If I treat Jesus as only a piece of God’s saving work, I sever myself from Jesus. Therefore I will seek to sever all those things from my life which disconnect me from Jesus even if others think those same things connect me to Jesus. (5:4)
  • I wait for the hope of righteousness through the Holy Spirit and by faith. Righteousness comes from the work of the Spirit not through my works. (5:5)
  • I believe that faith works through love. Faith is not empty. Faith is filled with love. Therefore by faith I believe that Jesus alone means everything, and that religious traditions like uncircumcision or circumcision mean nothing. (5:6)
  • I desire to run my race well, and I believe that I run best not by adding things to the truth of the Gospel, but by trusting the truth of the Gospel. I will train myself daily with the Gospel believing Jesus’ work on my behalf. I will begin my days not doing work for Jesus but trusting Jesus’ work for me. (5:7)
  • God calls me to Jesus—not Jesus plus something or someone else. God loves persuading people to the sufficiency of his Son not to self-sufficiency. (5:8)
  • I know that my life and the church as a whole can become filled with leaven—filled with things other than Jesus. Since leaven spreads quickly I will seek to be on guard against any particles of the leaven of legalism and law-living in my life and the community of faith that I am a part of. (5:9)
  • I recognize that false teachers who sneak into the community of faith and preach another Jesus or in addition to Jesus will come under judgment. (5:10)
  • I believe that the cross is a stumbling block. It is offensive. I will not be surprised then when moralists are offended by the radical grace of Jesus, nor will I be surprised when false teachers attempt to undermine the centrality of the cross of Jesus in the church. (5:11)
  • Paul uses harsh language when speaking of false teachers. He wishes that those who advocate circumcision along with Jesus as a means to salvation would go all the way and castrate themselves. Therefore I will not be soft on false teachers who know better. (5:12)
  • I will use sarcasm for the sake of the Gospel to reveal the foolishness of false teaching. Sarcasm is not to reveal my cleverness but to point people to Jesus. (5:12)
  • My freedom in Christ is not a freedom to sin. Therefore I resist tendencies to turn the radical grace of God into license. Instead Gospel-freedom moves me to serve and love others, not serve and indulge myself. (5:13)
  • Since the Law is fulfilled in loving my neighbor as myself—I will love Jesus and love other people. Radical grace emboldens me to love radically not sin radically. (5:14)
  • I will not engage in biting and devouring other people through my self-centered words and actions, but will seek to build up the church. (5:15)
  • By faith I will walk by the Spirit so that I do not carry out the desires of the flesh. I will not fight flesh with flesh, but flesh with Spirit. (5:16)
  • I know life is war and that an inner conflict of flesh versus Spirit wages within me, and within those in the church. Therefore I will seek to live by the Spirit, and will strive to be patient with others and forgiving toward others knowing that perfection will not be achieved till Jesus returns. (5:17)
  • Because of Jesus I am not under the law, but led by the Spirit. I will avoid living a life led by law, and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. (5:18)
  • I will seek to kill the following sins in my life: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other things similar to these. I take the warning of Paul against these things seriously, and will not play with sin. I know that playing around with particular sins end in practicing and being addicted to the same sins. At times I will examine myself and ask the opinion of others to see that I am not engaging in these sinful deeds. (5:19-21)
  • I know that those who practice and live consistently in these sinful lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of God. I will not lift my noses at others who engage in these things, but will live soberly knowing that I too could become entangled in them. Also, I will not be controlled by my past when I have engaged in these things (even if the past means yesterday), but I now ask Jesus to forgive me and ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to kill my sin and bear the fruit of the Spirit. (5:19-23)
  • I desire and ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life. I know that these aren’t fruits plural but fruit singular, and that I am called to walk in all of them not just some of them. I will not settle with my current level of maturity, but desire growth in the Spirit. (5:22-23)
  • Because I have died with Jesus, I have died to the flesh and these sinful passions and desires. Therefore I will live and act like I am dead to them, because I really have died to them. I don’t kill sin in order to die to sin and in order to be alive to Jesus. I kill sin because I’m dead to sin and alive to Jesus. (5:24)
  • Because I live by the Spirit due to the person and work of Jesus I will walk by the Spirit. I know that this is not passive, but an active pursuit. Therefore I ask God for help and for more of the Spirit’s work in my life. I desire continual fillings of the Spirit so that I am empowered to walk filled with the Spirit. (5:25)
  • I know the Spirit hates boasting, and challenging, and envying my brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore I will strive to boast in others successes, encourage others in their faith, and rejoice when others are blessed. I believe that the Holy Spirit works supernaturally, but sometimes the great work of the Spirit is found in the “simple” things like an encouraging word or holding one’s tongue. (5:26)


A few takeaways about the process itself:

  • You can do this. Yes, you. Great Bible study motivator.
  • Your small group, Sunday School class, youth group can do this.
  • You can repeat this process with the same book months or years later and get new results.
  • Some of you are familiar with a practice of ‘praying the scriptures’ and this can be seen as a variant on that.
  • Be sure to read the introduction mentioned above to learn more about the process.

About the author (from B. J.’s blog, 5:21)

B.J. lives on the redwood coast of California with his beautiful wife Kate, daughter Grace, and son Adoniram. He has a passion for leading people deeper into the gospel of grace in Jesus and the glory of God. He graduated from Bethany University with a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies, has studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, serves pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group, and has a real day job too.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (vs 25)

February 17, 2015

Book Review: The Happy Christian

In November of 2013, I reviewed a book by David Murray, Jesus on Every Page. When I was contacted about reviewing a new book by David, I immediately replied in the affirmative, only to receive an email that The Happy Christian was on its way. Wait, what? All I could think of was all my online friends who would cringe at the idea of reviewing something like “10 Ways to be a Happy Christian;” and then the book arrived and I was horrified to see that there were indeed ten sections, and the book’s cover art certainly alluded to a smiley face. Surely, I must find a way, to ditch this review obligation, right?

Happy ChristianI decided to read a few pages and before long, David Murray won me over. If anyone picks up this title looking for something trite or pithy, they are going to be ambushed.

If anything, I would call this book “An Encyclopedia of Fulfillment.” It looks at the things people crave and were made for and how society at large tries to find that satisfaction, but then shows how acknowledging Biblical principles where were there all along is the only way to find that satisfaction in life.

Each of the chapters also uses a cute mathematical formula, but the book is anything but formulaic. There’s also a healthy dose of reality in each chapter which eliminates any chance of this being characterized as a tome on positive thinking.

I hope I don’t offend the author or editorial team by saying this, but The Happy Christian is a book that pretends to be shallow but isn’t! In other words, it’s constructed along the lines of one of those “ten things” listicles but turns out to be much deeper.  There is an examination in each chapter to the writings of a secular psychologist (or similar) but they are used as a motif for deeper consideration. The book is highly footnoted — 381 end-notes, I counted them — and many of these are scripture references.

A few days ago I ran an overview of the second chapter, which looks at our media diet and how that shapes us. You can read that short excerpt by clicking here.

The type of happiness David Murray is describing here isn’t a passive thing that happens to you, but rather more of an activist happiness, a state of satisfaction and fulfillment in life that comes from entering into the life Christ offers, rather than sitting back waiting for happiness to arrive like a check in the mail. 

There are also a number of unexpected issues that the author raises which might challenge the reader, such as the idea that if the situation allows for it, Christians should select retailers or tradespeople from among fellow Christians. In the chapter on grace, he writes:

God blesses the world for the benefit of the church and every Christian in it.  His multiple varied blessings of industry, business, government, science, friendship, art, food, music, water, seasons, talents and gifts, conscience, courts, medication, air conditioning, and more are ultimately working together for the good of those who love Him.

That’s why we shouldn’t be ashamed to use non-Christians for goods and services.  Sometimes Christians and churches may decide to buy a certain good or service from a company simply because it is a Christian company.  The product or service may not be the best, but it has a Christian owner.  That’s faulty thinking, thinking that results from failing to understand God’s everywhere grace.  If God has enabled a non-Christian to make the best product or provide the most efficient service, we should gladly buy from him or her and regard it as God’s grace to that person and to us.  (p.112-3)

My only criticism is that perhaps in an effort to shape the book into a “top ten” format, the teaching on generosity and forgiveness were combined; I think each really deserved its own chapter.

The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World releases February 24th in paperback from Thomas Nelson. Look for the somewhat smiling cover where you buy quality books.

February 2, 2015

David The Shepherd King: Bible’s Most Detailed Narrative

Leap Over a WallI’m trying to continue my routine of alternating between reading a currently-published book — the ones publishers send to me — and a previously published title.  Two weeks ago I was encouraged to look at Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson, an author who I am increasingly drawn to read more of.

The book would fit in well to what is described as an “application commentary,” though I suspect one publisher may have a copyright on that phrase. He looks at the life of David in the Old Testament books that are named after Samuel and provides insights for the modern reader from the Bible’s most-covered character.

But Peterson also provides insights from his own career as a pastor.  He knows people, what motivates them, what frustrates them; and he knows church life intimately. The subtitle, Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians is most appropriate.

There are 20 chapters each going several directions at once.

First we see each part of the narrative involving David’s interaction with another person (Doeg, Abagail, Mephibosheth, plus the expected ones) or place (Brook Besor, En-Gedi, Ziklag, Jerusalem) and having a theme (Imagination, Sanctuary, Wilderness, Suffering, etc.)

Second, each begins with a quotation from the New Testament. Although this is a First Testament story, it has links to the Second Testament gospel, with a number of parallels to the life of Christ.

Third, I believe each chapter has a link to one of the Davidic Psalms that was written around the same time as the narrative, poetry which gives us a great window into David’s heart. So the book can be seen as a limited commentary on the Psalms as well as on I Samuel or II Samuel.

Fourth, each chapter very much relates to the human condition; to the state we find ourselves occupying in the 21st Century. There is a lot of David in each of us, we are perhaps most acquainted with our failures, our brokenness; but there is also the resident potential for much achievement as we allow God to be reflected in and through us.  

This book can be read in one or two sittings, or as I did, you can read a chapter-a-day devotionally. This is a book I would also want to return to a second time.  

Also, I want to especially recommend this to people who are familiar with Peterson’s work with The Message translation but like me a few years back, hadn’t checked out his other writing.

David is proof that God can use us in our weakness, in our broken condition perhaps we are more attuned to him than at times we would think we had it all together.


Note: A study guide for the book is published separately.


 

 

 

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick AppersonIf someone decides to start something like Churchgoers Anonymous, I think I’ve just found your curriculum: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ published by WestBow Press. Author Rick Apperson has had his share of strange church experiences. Remarkably, just weeks after visiting some of these congregations, the place would shut down. Someone suggested it was like having Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote show up at your front door, but clearly, none of this was Rick Apperson’s fault.

From Pennsylvania to East Tennessee to Croatia to British Columbia; and from Catholic to Charismatic to Congregational; Rick has seen his share of church governance models, worship styles, and quirky parishioners. But mostly he’s seen hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If anyone had the right to walk away from it all, it was him and the book’s final chapter should end with total rejection of faith in God.

But instead, Rick, later with wife Sarah, perseveres. We aren’t told what drives this desire to keep attending even in the face of lies and false doctrine, but he seems to always be willing to risk the vulnerability of starting from scratch in a new place of worship.

Despite the autobiographical nature of Killed by the Church, there is much teaching here and I would suggest that at 132 pages, the book offers more food-for-thought than books twice its size. What’s more, despite what some would consider the ‘in-group’ nature of a critique on the local church, it is presented in a very simple, very casual writing style that might actually resonate with that person you know who has walked away from weekly church attendance.

Most of the chapters in the book conclude with a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection” where Rick does delve a little deeper into the life lessons underlying his personal journey. Then there is a section called “Taking it Deeper” which is a set of discussion questions that could be used in a group setting, but are also deeply personal to the reader.

I can’t say enough how much I think people who have abandoned church could identify with this book. However, despite the many ways that people in local assemblies may have wounded them, this book has a very positive spirit to it and could be part of their journey to healing.

…I’ve been following Rick’s blog, Just a Thought almost from its inception and have especially enjoyed the Five Questions With… series he runs with Christian leaders and authors. After years of association with Youth With A Mission, today he serves with The Salvation Army.

In the last chapter, just to show that God has a sense of humor, we learn that Rick and Sarah planted a church. Who better? 


Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of the book at Christianity 201.


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

December 21, 2014

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

Filed under: relationships, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:23 am

For several years the Christian Booksellers Association* adopted the phrase

What Goes Into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

as a promotional tool to encourage reading.  The idea was that as you saturate your mind with the truths of God’s Word, Christian literature, and Christian music, you will be changed by what you listen to and read.

However, the opposite is also true.

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.

…Of course, I write all this not out of extensive reading in Christian counseling or a background in Christian psychology, but out of personal experience. The dictum to know thyself, means we ought to be able to identify some of the danger signs when we’re in the middle of mind-battle, or when we’re losing that fight. But a concerned friend or a discerning acquaintance will also be able to identify these signs and then care enough to confront the individual in question.


*It was either the CBA in Canada, the U.S., or both that used this phrase, it was very effective and ought to be brought back. What goes into a mind overflows to what is spoken, visible, etc.

For a previous article on the idea of “moving toward the cross” versus “moving away from the cross” click here.

December 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Brother

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:05 pm

Brothers in Christ

Several years ago, a man several decades my senior bought me a birthday card. The card he looked for and then chose was one of those relative birthday cards that said, “Happy Birthday, Brother.” In case it needed saying, the idea was that I was his brother in Christ. He was putting us on equal terms.

In heaven, or whatever you choose to call the next chapter of eternal life, Moses, the Apostle Peter, John Wesley and I will be the same age. Brothers.

In You and Me Forever, Francis Chan tries to put across the idea of seeing your spouse in terms of eternity. To see him or her as a spiritual being whose existence transcends this life; goes beyond this world.

With an expenditure of only a couple of dollars, the birthday card helped me see an eternal truth that I knew to be true, but I had never internalized.

When the Apostle Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters,” at various points in his letters, he’s writing to people he knew, and he’s writing to me and you.

The eternal life we entered into when we decided to follow Christ transcends chronology as we know it.


To order the card shown at Pinterest, click the image.

 

December 7, 2014

I Am Mess

Filed under: prayer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:43 pm

There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.

In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:

27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.

Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.

Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:

  • the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
  • obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
  • lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
  • terrible stewardship over the use of time;
  • a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
  • neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
  • wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.

Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person! Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.

But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).

Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.

But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.

I John 1:9 reminds us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)

From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done. No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior. True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.

Posted jointly with Christianity 201

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